Northwestern Volleyball Season Recap

Northwestern’s volleyball team ended the 2021 season with a 7-13 conference record. Coming into the 2022 season, the ‘Cats were loaded with veteran talent and were poised to surpass last season’s record. The year had its ups and downs, but unfortunately, Northwestern was only able to match its previous season’s conference record and failed to make the NCAA tournament for the 11th consecutive season. However, their 18-14 record was their best under Head Coach Shane Davis, making it one of the more notable seasons in recent memory. 

Northwestern roared through the non-conference slate, starting the year on a seven-game winning streak, in which the ‘Cats only dropped 3 sets out of 24 total sets. The good vibes came to an end against No. 13 Washington, with the team losing 3-1. 

Northwestern rounded out the non-conference schedule with the Chicago Cup, where the Wildcats took on and beat DePaul, UIC and Loyola. In the game against DePaul, the ‘Cats recorded 64 kills in 4 sets, which was a season-high for the team. Northwestern was entering conference play with an 11-1 record, and they would look to add onto that stellar record against Big Ten opposition. 

The start of Big Ten play was not easy for Northwestern, as they were swept by No. 6 Wisconsin and Illinois in back-to-back games. However, the minor setback was followed up with a major comeback. 

On September 28th, Northwestern traveled to Minneapolis and defeated No. 7 Minnesota in a five-set thriller, with the ‘Cats coming back from a 3-1 deficit to overcome their opponent. This win was the program’s first win on the road against a top 10 team, making it one of the best victories in Northwestern volleyball history. 

Northwestern wasn’t able to follow up their historic win with the success they wanted, losing four out of their next five games, albeit against tough opponents, which included No. 6 Ohio State and No. 3 Nebraska. 

With the ‘Cats sitting at a 2-6 record in conference play, something needed to change. Northwestern regrouped, refocused, and proceeded to win its next four games against Rutgers, Maryland, No. 12 Purdue and Iowa. This was Northwestern’s first four-game win streak in conference play since 2011. In this run, Northwestern averaged 56.5 kills a game, which was just over 7 kills greater than their season average of 49.2 kills a game. 

At this point, Northwestern had a 6-6 conference record and its tournament hopes were glimmering again with just eight games remaining on the year. Unfortunately, the ‘Cats just didn’t have enough in them to sustain their winning ways, and they proceeded to lose seven consecutive games. 

Northwestern did show fight in the losing streak, specifically in five-set matches against No. 4 Nebraska at home and away at Indiana, but their inability to supplement their kills with blocks on the defensive side continued to plague them. Northwestern ranked second in the conference in kills per set (13.58), but ranked 10th in blocks per set (2.16). The losing streak also meant that any hopes of a tournament berth were out the window.

Coming into the last game of the year, the ‘Cats wanted to end their season on a high, and they did just that. Northwestern concluded its season with a 3-0 sweep of Illinois at Welsh-Ryan Arena. 

Northwestern also received many notable accolades, including the highest RPI in program history and six weeks receiving votes in the AVCA poll. In terms of individual accolades, first-year outside hitter Kathryn Randorf was named to the All-Big Ten Freshman team. 

The star of the season, however, was outside hitter Temi Thomas-Ailara. TTA was named to the All-Big Ten First Team for the third time in her career, while also racking up three Big Ten Player of the Week awards and ranking second in the Big Ten in kills and kills per set. This season allowed Thomas-Ailara to establish herself as one the greatest players in program history. 

While Northwestern was quite successful this past season, it will be tough to surpass or even match their achievements. Thomas-Ailara and fellow outside hitters Desiree Becker and Hanna Lesiak all transferred, with Thomas-Ailara transferring within the conference to Wisconsin. Libero Megan Miller also completed her last year of eligibility, which means she will not be donning the purple and white next year. 

Losing key, impactful veterans was always going to put a dent on hopes of future success for the ‘Cats, and recent off-court drama will not help the cause either. 

On July 24th, a former Northwestern volleyball player filed a lawsuit against the university for failing to address a hazing incident which occurred two years ago. Head Coach Davis has been named a defendant in the lawsuit which is currently ongoing. 

Ultimately, Northwestern had one of its better seasons in recent years, which included some unforgettable moments and outstanding individual play. Emulating that success, however, will be quite the challenge for the ‘Cats next season.