Aug 31, 2013
KALAMAZOO, Mich. -- After falling into a two-game hole against Oklahoma, the Northwestern Wildcats were unable to recover as they dropped the first of two matches Saturday at the Holiday Inn-West Bronco Classic, 3-1 (26-24, 25-19, 17-25, 25-21).
In a tight battle between evenly matched foes, Northwestern was unable to hold a late lead in the first set. The 'Cats snatched the lead when sophomore Abbie Kraus came in and served up back-to-back aces to give her team a 20-18 advantage. Later with the Wildcats up a point, 23-22, Stephanie Holthus punctuated a long rally by both teams with a thunderous kill that prompted Oklahoma to use its final timeout. Whatever was said in the quick respite worked quite well because it got the 'Cats out of rhythm and helped the Sooners dig in and fight their way to a 26-24 triumph in the first frame.
OU, which received votes in the AVCA top 25 coaches preseason poll, was able to hold the lead from wire-to-wire in the second set. Trailing by six, 16-10, NU head coach Keylor Chan summoned Kraus once again and the Birmingham, Ala., native answered the bell with another pair of aces that helped the Wildcats claw to within three. Unfortunately, that was as close as they would get in the stanza as they fell by a final of 25-19.
Northwestern began to right its ship in the third set. Chan went to his bench to bring in a few new faces and it paid big dividends as the Wildcats picked up a 25-17 set triumph. The score was tied at 20-20 following a kill from NU's Savannah Paffen when Holthus stepped to the line to serve. The 'Cats then ripped off six points in a row to gain a lead that they would not relinquish. One of the aforementioned new faces on the floor, Yewande Akanbi, teamed with newcomer Maddie Slater to block an OU attempt and seal the set for Northwestern.
Another one of those new faces, freshman Caleigh Ryan, came of the bench and helped breathe fire into the Wildcat attack. The Glen Ellyn, Ill, native had 12 assists and three digs in the third as she guided her hitters to an attacking percentage of .258, NU's highest mark of the day.
The Wildcats continued to dictate the pace of play as the fourth set began. They opened a 10-7 lead after Ryan served an ace, but Oklahoma tied the score with three quick points. The two teams were separated by no fewer than two points until All-American Sallie McLaurin served an ace that prompted Chan to call a timeout. For Northwestern surge, OU provided a counter down the stretch as it held on to win, 25-21, and pick up its second win of the young season.
Holthus led all players with 18 kills in the match, marking the second time in as many matches that she hit that mark offensively. In her collegiate debut, Ryan finished with 27 assists in two frames, while libero Caroline Niedospial was all over the floor as she tallied a match-best 23 digs.
Northwestern will conclude its time in Kalamazoo with a match against the Milwaukee Panthers to start the evening session Saturday. The first serve from University Arena is set for 4 p.m. CT.
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