NU drops first match of weekend slate with Iowa

By Gavin Dorsey

After more than a month since their last home game, Northwestern Volleyball returned to Evanston Friday to host Iowa. The Wildcats came back from down 2-0 to tie it 2-2, but ultimately fell short against the Hawkeyes, dropping to 2-3 on the season.

Although the Hawkeyes entered the match a lowly 2-8, they managed to defeat the ‘Cats by winning the close sets early.  Northwestern held the early lead in set one, but four service errors, along with three receiving errors, allowed Iowa to crawl back. Both teams scored back and forth until NU led 24-23, but three-straight points handed Iowa the set.

The second set was a marathon from start to finish.  Neither team held a lead of more than two points until Iowa went up 19-15, but two kills and a block from Northwestern brought the ‘Cats right back.  Trailing 24-22 with a chance to lose a second-straight set, sophomore outside hitter Temi Thomas-Ailara landed back-to-back kills.  Combined with a bad Iowa set, the ‘Cats took a 25-24 advantage and sat one point away from tying the match at one set apiece.  Twenty-seven back-and-forth points later, Iowa put the set out of reach, 39-37.

Errors repeatedly sunk the Wildcats in the first two sets, in which they tallied 18 total.  Despite numerous chances to pull away from the Hawkeyes, the mistakes piled up and left the Cats with a 2-0 deficit.

Northwestern finally turned the tables in the third set, winning 25-23.  The Cats finished the set on a 5-1 run behind aces from junior libero Megan Miller and redshirt sophomore outside hitter Abryanna Cannon.  The ‘Cats once again were locked in a battle in the fourth set, until a 12-3 run forced a fifth and final set.  Senior outside hitter Nia Robinson led the late rally with four kills in the last seven Wildcat points.

With two-straight set wins and 12 of the last 15 points, Northwestern held all the momentum heading into the last set. The momentum seemed alive with a Northwestern ace on the first point, but a 5-0 response from Iowa wrestled it back in a hurry. The Hawkeyes pulled away with a 15-11 win in the final set.

First-year setter Alexa Rousseau made her first career start over usual starter junior Kiara McNulty.  Rousseau performed exceptionally in McNulty’s absence, notching 55 assists, good for the second most in the Big Ten in a game this season.  Rousseau provided the spark for Northwestern’s offense, consistently setting up her teammates for the kill.

Thomas-Ailara also found herself among the team leaders, as she tends to do, with a season-high 26 kills.  Cannon notched a career-high four service aces, although she also added four service errors.

Northwestern will attempt to avenge their loss in a Saturday rematch against Iowa.