Two games into their debut at Welsh-Ryan, Northwestern women's volleyball is slowly but surely matching its home field advantage with better play. The Wildcats (15-13, 5-11) capped off their first two home games at Welsh-Ryan Arena with an up-and-down performance, losing against #7 Penn State but defeating Rutgers in a commanding showcase.
The team played particularly well against the Nittany Lions (20-5, 11-4) on Friday, challenging Penn State in every set despite losing 3-0. Playing in front of a crowd of almost 2,300 fans – the highest attendance since 2014 – the Wildcats performed with energy unlike any other home game this season. Ella Grbac claimed the first point on the court, and the team played a tough first set but lost 25-21. Against a team ranked as high as Penn State, though, the ‘Cats played a strong game.
The ‘Cats lost the second and third sets 25-20 and 25-19, respectively. The players have significantly improved since breaking their eight-game losing streak and jumped two spots in the Big Ten standings from 13th place to 11th.
On Saturday, the team took on Rutgers (6-23, 0-16) and secured the win against the much worse team of Rutgers, winning 3-1. The ‘Cats kept up the energy from the night before during the first set, but started the game playing jungle ball; they scrambled over each other to secure saves that should have been easily returned.
The Wildcats won the first set 25-20, and during the second set they paid better attention to ball placement and won 25-17.
Compared to past games, the Wildcats communicated well. Kiara McNulty and Abryanna Cannon stood out as outstanding players for the second time this weekend. On Friday against Penn State, McNulty had 33 assists, and Cannon had three key blocks. Against Rutgers, McNulty had a team-high of 47 out of the 49 assists, and Cannon had 13 kills, four blocks and two aces.
The consistent team leaders, Alana Walker and Nia Robinson, played well as usual. On Saturday, Walker also recorded eight kills and eight blocks, showing a drastic improvement in her defense compared to the beginning of the season. Robinson took fifteen kills and two blocks that night, recovering from her twelve kill errors.
The majority of Rutgers’ points were due to Northwestern’s offensive errors, essentially gifting Rutgers an entire set to narrow the match at 2-1. The ‘Cats brought their game back during the fourth set and won 25-14, leaving Rutgers with an embarrassing -.147 percentage.
The Wildcats will play their second-to-last home game on Wednesday against Illinois and have a rematch against Penn State on Saturday.