Riding high off a 3-1 win over No. 18 Purdue, the Northwestern Wildcats (16-12, 8-8 Big Ten) needed everything they could muster to pull out a five-set victory over the Indiana Hoosiers (9-18, 1-15 Big Ten), who came into the afternoon with a 1-9 record in their last 10 games and just a single Big Ten victory.
“It’s a win, this time of year you just want to find a way to win," coach Keylor Chan said. "Indiana played really well tonight and we feel lucky to get the ‘W’. I thought we showed a lot of heart tonight."
Chan made a key lineup change, giving extended time to junior outside hitter Monica McGreal, who responded with one of her best performances of the season.
McGreal had 21 kills and eight digs, including several dives into the scorers’ table to keep plays alive and one spectacular save off her thigh in the second set. She was modest after the game, crediting her stellar performance to her teammates.
“I think we just got into the flow of the game and Caleigh [Ryan] our setter did a really great job of getting me good lineups on the block,” McGreal said.
Ryan, a freshman and the Big Ten’s leader in assists per set, had 59 assists in the game, just two less than the entire Indiana team.
The ‘Cats also got a spark from junior outside hitter Yewande Akanbi, who posted 17 kills and three digs, and senior outside hitter and Northwestern all-time kills leader Stephanie Holthus, who had 15 kills and 15 digs, including several spectacular plays to keep the ‘Cats’ offense running.
The win helped Northwestern close a four-game homestand at 2-2. The ‘Cats dropped matches with then-No. 13 Michigan State and No. 17 Michigan, before rebounding to post wins over Purdue and the Hoosiers.
Both squads started the match sloppy, committing a number of errors, but the ‘Cats were able to claim the first set 25-16 on a kill by junior middle blocker Savannah Paffen. Indiana took the second set 27-25 thanks to the stellar play of junior right-side hitter Morgan Leach, who had 16 kills in the game.
The ‘Cats claimed the third set 25-23 on a well-placed spike from Yewande Akanbi, falling behind 12-9 before Chan called a timeout and the team was able to refocus.
In the fourth set Northwestern notched just eight kills as the Hoosiers came out aggressive, built a big lead and won handily 25-17. The fifth set was a back-and-forth battle that was tied 8-8 before a kill by Akanbi and a stellar combo-block from Paffen and McGreal gave the ‘Cats a 10-8 lead.
Indiana called timeout, but couldn’t regain the momentum, as the match was fittingly finished off by a McGreal set that gave the ‘Cats a 15-10 victory.
“I have complete confidence that anyone on the team can score the ball. Whoever’s hot, that’s who we want to set the ball to, and tonight it was Monica,” Holthus said. “I don’t think anyone cares who gets the ball as long as we get the kills and the win in the end."
The match was delayed several times due to a wet spot on the floor, disrupting the pace and taking rhythm away from both teams.
Indiana attempted to dictate the pace of the game with their play at the net, but the ‘Cats’ frontline responded well, registering 12 blocks against seven from the Hoosiers.
Northwestern heads on the road for a showdown against No. 2 Penn State on Friday, Nov. 22.