Sept. 27, 2013
EVANSTON, Ill. -- Northwestern stood toe-to-toe with the 12th-ranked team in the country in front of a packed house at Welsh-Ryan Arena Friday night, but in the end the Nebraska Cornhuskers had too much firepower as they defeated the Wildcats in the Big Ten opener for both teams, 3-1 (25-16, 20-25, 25-21, 25-20).
"We played well tonight and we got better," said Northwestern head coach Keylor Chan. "We just weren't able to score those critical points in key situations and Nebraska took advantage of that. I thought that we played hard from the start and never gave in or lost our composure throughout the match. That will bode well for us as we continue our journey through the Big Ten."
The Huskers scored the first point of the match and never trailed in the opening game. Nebraska scored four of the first five points, in fact, as it built its lead to as many as eight points on a few occasions before closing out Northwestern, 25-16, on back-to-back kills from freshman Kadie Rolfzen.
The 'Cats came out with a vengeance in the second game. This time it was NU that got off to a great start that energized the home crowd. The Huskers scored first, but the Wildcats scored the next six points in succession to take their first lead Friday. During the early run, Savannah Paffen and Katie Dutchman owned the net for Northwestern; the duo teamed up three times to block Nebraska's efforts and set the tone for the set.
Northwestern extended its lead to as many as six points at three different points during the second game, never allowing Nebraska to come closer than three points. NU's spark off the bench, junior Yewande Akanbi sealed the second with a kill to give her team a 25-20 triumph and even the ledger as the teams retreated to their locker rooms for intermission.
As the third game started, the reigning Sports Imports/AVCA Division I National Player of the Week, NU's Stephanie Holthus, recorded her ninth kill of the evening to take over sole possession of fifth place on the school's all-time record book with 1,491 career kills. Nebraska quickly took back the lead, but the 'Cats wouldn't go away quietly.
The home team regained an early advantage on another termination from Akanbi, but each time NU punched, Nebraska had an answer. The Huskers took a 10-9 lead and held on the rest of the way. Late in the frame, Northwestern staged a four-point rally that featured a pair of kills from Holthus and another from Katie Dutchman that pulled the 'Cats within two points at 21-19. Nebraska eventually escaped with a 25-21 victory to take a 2-1 lead for the match.
The fourth stanza featured a good bit of back-and-forth early, but an 8-2 run gave the Huskers a 12-6 lead that provided enough breathing room. Northwestern would slice its deficit to three much later on when Abbie Kraus served NU's second ace of the night to make it 23-20, Nebraska. The visitors would rattle off the next two points, however, to win 25-20 and pick up their eighth win of the season and their first in conference play.
Holthus led the charge offensively for Northwestern with 20 kills. After Friday's match she owns 1,502 during her career in Evanston and trails Lindsay Anderson by 14 for fourth place.
Dutchman, playing for the first time since Sept. 12 against Arizona, chipped in with eight kills and three blocks. Paffen tallied a career-high eight blocks for the Wildcats, who as a team, registered 9.0 in the match.
Caroline Niedospial was stout in the back row for Northwestern. The Chicago, native had a match-high 14 digs, including several acrobatic efforts that kept rallies alive for her team. Caleigh Ryan handed out 43 assists and added 12 digs as she registered her fourth career double-double.
Nebraska's Kelsey Robinson carried the Huskers with 25 kills and 12 digs. Rolfzen contributed 19 kills and 10 digs for her team.
The Wildcats continue Big Ten play on Saturday night at home when they host the Iowa Hawkeyes at 7 p.m. NU has won the last five matches against Iowa and has not dropped a set dating back to Oct. 23, 2009 in Iowa City. Iowa lost its Big Ten opener Friday night at No. 24 Illinois, 3-0.
Be the first to know what's going on with the 'Cats -- Follow @NU_Sports on Twitter, become a fan of Northwestern Athletics on Facebook, subscribe to the NU Sports Express e-newsletter and sign up to receive promotional text alerts for the latest news, schedule updates and video and to interact with NU. For more information on following specific Northwestern teams online, visit our Social Media page!