Northwestern Volleyball vs. Minnesota Recap

By Megan Gingrich

Looking to bounce back after a 3-0 loss against Illinois this past week, the Northwestern Wildcats (11-13, 5-9 Big Ten) returned to Welsh-Ryan Arena on Sunday afternoon to take on the Minnesota Gophers (12-10, 8-6 Big Ten). On Alumnae Day at Welsh-Ryan Arena, while 16 former Northwestern Volleyball players were honored between the second and third sets, the current volleyball ‘Cats fell short of securing the victory by losing in four, very close, sets. Despite the unfavorable outcome, Northwestern found success with their star outside hitter, Julia Sangiacomo, as Sunday’s match was her second full game back from a knee injury that had previously kept her sidelined. 

The ‘Cats started out strong in the first set. Leilani Dodson racked up three kills within the ‘Cats first 10 points, while Averie Hernandez had five kills and Alexa Rousseau had 15 assists for the set. On the Minnesota side, Melani Shaffmaster tallied 12 assists of her own in the first set. With 15 ties and five lead changes, set one was a battle between the ‘Cats and the Golden Gophers. The largest lead of the set was four points with Northwestern on top, but the lead was quickly shortened by a 4-0 run by Minnesota to tie the set at 10 apiece. Minnesota’s comeback would not be enough for them to outlast the ‘Cats, who ultimately took set one in an extended set, 27-25, after ‘Cats head coach Shane Davis subbed in sophomore setter Lauren Carter to serve a match-point ace. 

The Gophers came into set two ready to put up another fight, taking an early lead with a score of 4-1. The ‘Cats were ready to bring the same energy, answering the Gophers’ quick run with a 3-0 run of their own to create yet another back and forth battle. Midway through set two, the ‘Cats fought another run by the Gophers to take the game from 14-10 Minnesota to 16-15 Northwestern. Through two sets, Northwestern Coach Shane Davis had challenged two points, both of which were unsuccessful. Northwestern junior Ellee Stinson recorded 14 digs through the first two sets, but the libero’s defensive power was not enough for the ‘Cats to grab the second set, which Minnesota eventually won 25-23. 

Set three began with Gigi Navarrete having the first serve, followed by an assist from Maddy Chinn, and a kill by Alexa Rousseau for the ‘Cats to take the first point. Through the first eight points, each team had already recorded two errors, making for a bit of rough volleyball. Towards the latter half of the set, another barn burner caused Coach Davis to sub in Lauren Carter again with the hopes that she would bring her match point magic. However, said magic was not in the cards for the set as Minnesota pulled away to take set three, 25-21, just one set away from taking the match.

Minnesota kept the energy steady coming into the fourth set. Outside hitter Taylor Landfair supplied the Gophers with a match-leading number of kills (25) and points (26.5). A kill by Northwestern’s Kennedy Hill, followed by an ace by Averie Hernandez allowed for the ‘Cats to remain in the fight. With a noise recording of over 100 decibels, the Alumnae Day crowd at Welsh-Ryan Arena was a supportive bunch. The ‘Cats never backed down, but the Gophers were able to maintain their energy, taking the set 25-23, and the match 3-1. 

In spite of the outcome, the ‘Cats displayed their talent and fought a good fight. The ‘Cats will head to Lincoln, Nebraska on Wednesday for a rematch with No. 1 Nebraska.