Northwestern Volleyball vs. Indiana Recap

By Michael Capobianco

The Northwestern Wildcats (11-11, 5-7 Big Ten) welcomed the Indiana Hoosiers (16-9, 6-6 Big Ten) to Welsh-Ryan Arena on Sunday afternoon for a thrilling five-set battle. The ‘Cats suffered a tough 3-0 loss away at Ohio State four days earlier, and looked to rebound in a big way. Northwestern was once again without its star graduate student outside hitter, Julia Sangiacomo, who featured in just three points all game as she continues to nurse a knee injury. Despite the limited play from Sangiacomo, Northwestern was still able to come out on top, winning the match 3-2.

The ‘Cats set the tone early, receiving productive offense from a large cast, particularly graduate outside hitter Maddy Chinn, who had 10 kills and seven digs, and senior setter Alexa Rousseau, who tied her season high with 53 assists. After back-and-forth play, the Wildcats went on a 3-0 run to build a 12-8 lead sparked by kills from sophomore outside hitter Kathryn Randorf. However, the Hoosiers rallied, eventually tying the score at 23. Sophomore middle blocker Kennedy Hill broke the tie with her emphatic first block of the game, and on the next play, Randorf slammed down the kill to clinch the first set in favor of Northwestern, 25-23.

The second set provided the drama. After the Hoosiers put Northwestern in an early 7-3 deficit, the ‘Cats went on a 6-0 run to take the lead, sparked by a prolific connection between senior middle blocker Leilani Dodson and Rousseau, who had 16 assists in the set. With the ‘Cats up 23-21, Hill unleashed a thunderous block to put Northwestern one point away from a 2-0 lead – but Indiana had other plans, winning three straight points to knot the game at 24. For the next 15 minutes, the squads traded set points, but Indiana finally broke the ‘Cats and won by an extraordinary score of 34-32.

In set three, Indiana rode the momentum to a 9-4 start, and never looked back, defeating Northwestern 25-21. However, in the fourth set, the Wildcats made the necessary adjustments and played with a new level of focus, patience and precision. Rousseau set up Dodson and sophomore outside hitter Averie Hernandez with kills all throughout the set, and the ‘Cats evened up the game 2-2, winning the set by a score of 25-21. Hill proved to be the catalyst at the end of the set with a dominant offensive and defensive three-point sequence. She finished with a career-high 12 kills and 10 blocks and continued what has been a breakout season for the star sophomore.

Northwestern gained the early edge in the fifth set, and dominated throughout the way. Led by a well-rounded attack from Hernandez and Hill, the ‘Cats steamrolled to victory, winning 15-10. Hernandez was clutch down the stretch, and she finished with a career-high 21 kills and 14 digs in her first double-double. Hernandez has played a crucial role during Sangiacomo’s absence, and has led the team in kills for four consecutive matches.

Northwestern supplied an all-around effort in Sunday’s win, as four players reached double-digits in kills, and five reached the same mark in digs. The ‘Cats will take on Illinois in Champaign on Wednesday night as they look to go on a run to finish the season and take a leap in the standings in the competitive Big Ten conference.