Season Recap: Volleyball
By Maria Heim
Overall Record: 12-19
Conference Record: 7-13
Kills Leader: Temi Thomas-Ailara (492 kills)
Assist Leader: Alexa Rousseau (1181 assists)
The Northwestern Volleyball team faced Northern Colorado in its first game of the season on Aug. 27. Following this loss, the team turned things around and began to gain momentum. In a win against Colorado State, Temi Thomas-Ailara set a record of eight service aces, the highest ever recorded for Northwestern in a four set match.
Coach Davis and the Wildcats endured a three-game losing streak at the Springhill Suites Invitations, despite even more great performances from Thomas-Ailara. First, against New Mexico State, the rising senior notched a double-double with a match-high 21 kills. In all three games, Thomas-Ailara led Northwestern in kills, a trend that continued for the rest of the season. This weekend was also pertinent for new Wildcat Leilani Dodson. This BYU transfer set a team-high of 13 kills on a .500 clip against Arizona.
The ‘Cats, back on the road, won two out of their next three matches at the UniWyo Invite in Laramie, Wyoming. On the defensive end, libero Megan Miller helped Northwestern as she made double-digit digs in all three matches.
Then, it was an exciting home opener in Evanston, a packed student section ready for the Chicago Cup. Northwestern won games against University of Illinois Chicago and Loyola, but lost to Depaul, 3-2. This tournament left Northwestern with some momentum going into their first conference game against Nebraska.
The Wildcats got off to a rough start in B1G play. Facing Nebraska for the first time in two years, Northwestern fell to the Huskers 3-1. Northwestern then lost on the road to Illinois in five sets.
Even as they began to improve and win games, it seemed they could never truly find their footing. Northwestern took the first two sets from No. 7 Minnesota, but couldn’t seal the deal, losing in a five set thriller. The team secured a massive victory in five sets against Maryland, Alexa Rousseau leading with a career-high 18 digs, before loosing 1-3 to Penn State, despite first-year Ellee Stinson’s career-high 17 digs.
Looking for revenge, Northwestern faced Minnesota once again, but could not hold their own in Minneapolis. They lost to the No. 12 ranked team 0-3.
Returning back to campus, Northwestern lost against Illinois once again 1-3. Looking to change their luck, the ‘Cats got out to a fast start against Iowa on Oct. 23. Megan Miller’s nine-point service run helped Northwestern take a commanding 10-0 in the first set and eventually win 3-1.
The ‘Cats took to the road again, facing Purdue and Indiana. After losing to Purdue, Northwestern defeated Indiana with an exceptional performance from Leilani Dodson. She notched 16 kills, right behind Thomas-Ailara’s 19.
Northwestern hosted a double-header welcoming both Wisconsin and Indiana to Evanston. The ‘Cats fell to Wisconsin, but were victorious in four sets to Indiana, 3-1.
For the final home double-header of the season, the ‘Cats fell to both Maryland and Purdue.. Northwestern also fell to Michigan, 1-3 in Ann Arbor. However, Northwestern was able to end the season on a high note, closing out a five set thriller against Michigan State to win 3-2.
The leader of this Northwestern squad, Thomas-Ailara earned First Team All-Big Ten honors. She finished the season with a conference-high 492 kills and a Northwestern-high 38 service aces. Rising junior Natalie Chizzo was also recognized as a Big Ten Sportsmanship Honoree.
The Wildcats walked away from the 2021 season ranked ninth in the Big Ten. Going into this fall, Head Coach Shane Davis will return, given his multi-year contract extension, and hopes to elevate his team’s position. Northwestern will welcome a new assistant coach in Maggie Eppright who spent the last four seasons at Fresno State and specializes in developing liberos, passers and defenders.
Northwestern will be back in Big Ten action on Sept. 23 facing Wisconsin in Madison.