Sept. 13, 2013
HONOLULU -- In a very close battle between two identically-nicknamed programs, Arizona's Wildcats got the best of Northwestern's Thursday evening with a 3-1 (25-22, 25-27, 25-20, 25-19) victory at the Outrigger Hotels and Resorts Volleyball Challenge, hosted by the University of Hawaii.
NU junior Monica McGreal turned in a tremendous performance for the Wildcats as she hammered down a season-high 12 kills, though the team came up short. The Louisville, Ky., native committed only two errors on 27 attempts and added five digs for Northwestern. Savannah Paffen added 10 kills and three blocks for the 'Cats. Libero Caroline Niedospial was solid in the back row as she dug out a match-high 28 attacks; the redshirt sophomore's 28 digs also mark a career-best output.
Arizona narrowly edged Northwestern in a back-and-forth opening set. With the score tied at 14 points apiece, UA ripped off five-consecutive kills to take a lead it would not relinquish. The Big Ten's 'Cats went on an inspiring 5-1 run of their own to pull within a point, but NU was unable to ultimately take the lead.
Head coach Keylor Chan's squad was able to right the ship in the second set with a thrilling 27-25 triumph. The second stanza saw both teams trade brief runs before the Wildcats evened the ledger. The team's had 18 points apiece when McGreal unleashed a thunderous kill and Paffen followed with a termination of her own to give NU a 20-18 advantage. The Purple and White pushed its cushion to 24-22, but UA was able to fight off two set points and even take a 25-24 lead. Freshman Kayla Morin responded with back-to-back kills for Northwestern before an attacking error on Arizona's Madi Kingdon helped the 'Cats even the match at a set apiece.
The Wildcats from Northwestern fell behind late in the third, 21-16, before making a late push. NU orchestrated a three-point run that culminated with a nice tandem block from freshman Maddie Slater and McGreal that pulled the 'Cats within a pair and forced Arizona to use its second timeout of the set. The Red and Blue responded, however, to the stoppage with a quick 4-1 run to close the frame and take a 2-1 for the match.
Neither team was the model of offensive efficiency in the third game. Northwestern turned in only eight kills on 43 attempts with seven misfires. Arizona struggled as well with 10 errors on 46 swings thanks to a quartet of blocks by NU.
Arizona started hot in the fourth set, but the Wildcats would not bow out easily. The Pac-12's 'Cats opened a 9-4 lead, but the Big Ten's version ripped off five unanswered points to tie the score. The run included a pair of blocks from Slater and a monster score off the arm of Yewande Akanbi. Soon Northwestern finally grabbed its first lead of the fourth frame at 13-12 when Morin served an ace.
The run didn't stop there, however, NU continued its terrific comeback with an overall 11-3 run to take a 15-12 lead on yet another kill from McGreal. Undaunted, Arizona strung together four unanswered points of its own to take the lead right back.
In the end, Northwestern's exciting run came up short as Arizona held onto to the late lead as it went on to win the fourth set, 25-19, and claim the match, 3-1.
The loss snapped a four-match winning streak for the Wildcats that began with a five-set win against Milwaukee on Aug. 31 and continued with three more victories at last weekend's Wildcat Challenge in Evanston, Ill.
Northwestern will return to the Stan Sheriff Center on Friday night to take on the 10th-ranked Hawaii Rainbow Wahine at 7:30 p.m. local time (Saturday, 12:30 a.m. CT). It is the first meeting between the two programs since NU's last trip to O'ahu in 2006.
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