Oct. 15, 2011
Site: Evanston, Ill. (Welsh-Ryan Arena)
Score: Northwestern 2, No. 20 Michigan 3
Records: NU (10-9, 1-7 Big Ten), Michigan (15-5, 3-5 Big Ten)
Next NU Event: Wednesday, Oct. 19 -- vs. No. 1 Illinois (Welsh-Ryan Arena), 7 p.m.
EVANSTON, Ill. -- With their backs against the wall and facing a two-set deficit, the Northwestern Wildcats staged a ferocious comeback on the volleyball court Saturday night, but ultimately fell to the No. 20 Michigan Wolverines at Welsh-Ryan Arena, 3-2.
The 'Cats trailed 2-0 at the intermission having lost the first two frames by scores of 25-15 and 25-21. There were few highlights early on for NU as the team tried to find a rhythm offensively with a new lineup on the court. Primary setter Madalyn Shalter (Ottawa, Ohio/Ottawa-Glandorf) missed the contest with an illness, so it fell to freshman Hannah Crippen (Plainfield, Ill./North), who was recruited to be a setter, to fill in.
Northwestern took control in the third set and it did so on the strength of a monstrous defensive effort. As a team, the Wildcats tallied nine blocks in the third set, while Michigan did not record a single one. Michigan had five more kills, but totaled eight more errors, which proved to be the difference in the 25-21 set victory for NU.
Redshirt freshman Katie Dutchman (Del Mar, Calif./Torrey Pines) accounted for seven block assists in the set. Yewande Akanbi (Houston, Texas/Dawson) recorded four in the set and five overall in the match to set a new career high, while Crippen and Kathryn Chrystal (Crystal Lake, Ill.) each had three in the set.
The Wolverines climbed out on top early in the fourth set as they scored the first four points with Lexi Erwin at the service line. Northwestern head coach Keylor Chan's group chipped away steadily and soon would tie the set at 13 apiece. Once the 'Cats grabbed the lead, they did not look back. Stephanie Holthus (Burlington, Ill./Central) terminated a point to make it 14-13. It was still a one-point match at 19-18, but the home team scored the next three points to create separation en route to a 25-20 win to tie the match at two sets apiece.
Northwestern and Michigan traded points through the early going in set number five as the score was tied at that number. Then, the Wolverines went on a five-point run to take an advantage of the same margin, one they would not relinquish. The 'Cats sliced it to two points at 10-8, but Michigan called a timeout, squashed the momentum and scored the next two points to go back up by four and eventually seal the win.
Heading into the fifth set, Chan knew it was anyone's game to win.
"We knew we had a great chance," said Chan. "It got a little bit tight and we lost some confidence. Our lack of experience hurt us a little bit right there.
"We have the talent, but we need to work on closing matches out," added Chan. "You have to continue to knock on the door and eventually you'll break it down."
Holthus led Northwestern with 14 kills, while Erwin led all players in the match with 20 for Michigan. Akanbi (12) and Dutchman (10) were also in double-digits for the Wildcats. Dutchman also finished the match with a career-high 11 total blocks. Crippen handed out 34 assists in her debut at the setter position.
Kirsten Watson (Orlando, Fla./Olympia) made her collegiate debut in the front row on Saturday and she helped out with a pair of block assists in the match.
"Kirsten Watson did a great job," said Chan. "Hannah Crippen did a great job setting her first Big Ten match and that was something that we really needed. Both of those players were outstanding in their roles tonight."
The Wildcats are set to conclude the three-match homestand on Wednesday evening at 7 p.m. when the nation's top-ranked team, the Illinois Fighting Illini, invades Welsh-Ryan Arena. The last time the two teams met, Northwestern, ranked No. 24 at the time, upset the sixth-ranked Illini in straight sets for the first time since 1984. The victory over the Illini marked the highest ranked opponent the Wildcats had defeated since a five-set victory over third-ranked Penn State in 2000.
Wednesday is Team Night at Welsh-Ryan Arena. All teams of 15 or more will receive $3 admission and the first 500 fans in attendance will receive Northwestern water bottles. For tickets or more information, please call 888-Go-Purple.
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