Dec. 1, 2005
SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Northwestern entered the 2005 NCAA Tournament without a win in its previous six appearances. Texas A&M had made the Big Dance in 13 consecutive seasons under 13-year head coach Laurie Corbelli, and had never lost a first-round match.
With history looming dark against Northwestern, the Wildcats did the only thing they could do.
They blocked it out. Literally.
Behind one of the best defensive nights at the net in program history, Northwestern overcame a 2-1 deficit to defeat the Aggies, 30-26, 20-30, 28-30, 30-27, 15-12, and advance to the second round of the NCAA Tournament.
With the win, the Wildcats improve to 20-11 on the year, reaching 20 wins for the first time since 1988. Texas A&M concludes its season with a 16-14 record.
"This was a great match against a program with a lot of history," NU head coach Keylor Chan said. "The last 13 years, Texas A&M has been one of the best programs in the nation. We were fortunate to play at a very high level tonight and pull out the victory."
The result was even more special for Chan, who notched his 100th career-victory with the win.
Northwestern began its NCAA Tournament with the first four points of game one, capped by a Lizzie Carlson (Palo Alto, Calif./Palo Alto) ace. After the Aggies came back to tie the score, 7-7, the Wildcats went on a 7-2 run -- including another Carlson ace -- to open a 14-9 advantage. Again, A&M responded with an 11-4 run to take a two-point lead, 20-18.
Trailing for the first time in the game, Northwestern immediately scored the next three points to regain the advantage, 21-20. The teams traded points and ties until a block by sophomore Lindsay Anderson (Wilmette, Ill./New Trier) and freshman Chelsy Hyser (Belvidere, Ill./Belvidere) combined with an Aggie hitting error gave the Wildcats a 26-24 lead and forced an A&M timeout.
Out of the timeout, Hyser killed two more balls and junior Julie Purcell
(Louisville, Ky./Assumption) solo blocked an Aggie attack to give the 'Cats four game points, 29-25.
An A&M ball handling error ended the first game, 30-26, and gave Northwestern a 1-0 lead in the match.
The Wildcats had seven team blocks in the first game, including five from sophomore Brittney Aldridge (Hampshire, Ill./Hampshire).
"Our blockers were exceptional tonight," Chan said. "Our assistant coach, Ryan Theis, did a great job designing our schemes. The last three weeks our young blockers have come a long way and they really gave us the advantage at the net."
Game two began exactly opposite of the first game's start. A&M jumped out to a 4-0 lead en route to a 7-1 advantage. The Wildcats cut the lead to two, 10-8, before the Aggies again extended their lead.
Northwestern cut the game to three, 21-18 before a 3-0 A&M run forced a timeout from Chan. The Aggies eventually ran away with the second game, 30-20.
In game three, Northwestern again came out of their corner swinging (and blocking). A block by sophomore Courtnie Paulus (Belgium, Wis./Ozaukee) and Hyser gave the 'Cats an early 6-1 lead. Just like game one, A&M stormed back quickly to tie the match, 9-9.
The teams played even up until an NU spurt gave the 'Cats a 20-17 lead. The Aggies responded with a 9-2 run to take a 26-22 lead. Eventually trailing 28-24, the Wildcats came all the back to within one, 29-28, before an Aggie kill ended the third game, 30-28, and gave Texas A&M a 2-1 lead in the match.
For the first time in the match, game four did not feature one team jumping out to an early lead. With the score tied, 9-9, the Aggies used a 6-1 run to take a 15-10 lead into the media timeout.
Trailing 17-12, Northwestern scored three quick points to draw within two, 17-15. The Wildcats eventually came all the way back to tie the score, 21-21, before taking the lead, 24-23, and forcing an Aggie timeout.
With Northwestern's lead still at one, 25-24, the Wildcats' net defense went just plain nuts. First Aldridge and Anderson combined on a block, then Anderson blocked a swing by herself. On the next point, Hyser and Anderson blocked another ball for a 28-24 advantage.
A Hyser kill and an Aggie service error gave the Wildcats the fourth game, 30-27.
Which brought about game five. Which was tight. And tense. And fantastic.
Neither team held more than a one-point advantage until yet another Wildcat block gave NU an 8-6 lead heading into the side switch.
The Aggies came out of the side switch and scored three of the next four points to take the lead, 10-9, before Chan used a timeout. The Wildcats got two of the next three points for a 12-11 lead, and A&M used a timeout of their own.
A Paulus kill out of the break gave NU a 13-11 lead, but a handling error call on the 'Cats closed the gap back to one, 13-12, and Chan took his final timeout.
Hyser blasted home kills on the final two points of the game to win, 15-12, and take the match, 3-2.
As a team, Northwestern finished with 19 total blocks, tied for its season-best. The Wildcats had 30 block assists as a team, tied for the fourth-best total in program history.
Aldridge led the 'Cats with a season-best 10 blocks, while Anderson contributed a career-best eight. Hyser added seven blocks for Northwestern.
Paulus led NU with a season-best 18 kills, while Purcell had a season-best 17. Anderson and Hyser both finished with 13 kills. Hyser led the `Cats with a .500 hitting percentage (13-2-22).
Both Paulus (18 kills, 10 digs) and Anderson (13 kills, 16 digs) posted double-doubles for Northwestern.
Senior Christie Gardner (West Bend, Wis./West Bend East) had a match-high 21 digs for the Wildcats.
Setters Lauren Greenwood (Brentwood, Tenn./Brentwood) and Stephanie Jurivich (LaGrange, Ill./St. Ignatius) had 37 and 22 assists for the `Cats, respectively.
Northwestern returns to action in the round of 32 at 6 p.m. CT tomorrow night, Friday, Dec. 2, against the tournament's No. 6 seed, Notre Dame. The Irish defeated Dayton Thursday night, 3-2.