Dec. 17, 2006
EVANSTON, Ill. -- Entering the 2006 season, Northwestern head coach Keylor Chan built his team a challenging schedule, expecting them to build on the NCAA Tournament success of the 2005 squad. While there were some bumps in the road, and the end result was not what Chan had envisioned, the Wildcats still turned in some big-time performances that prove great things are on the horizon.
Northwestern concluded the 2006 slate with a 14-15 overall record, 8-12 in the Big Ten. The Wildcats took on 12 ranked opponents during the year, recording wins against then-No. 24 Arizona and then-No. 16 Ohio State.
The year began with a sweep of Illinois-Chicago at home before traveling to the Western Michigan Clarion Classic, where NU's first match against Charleston Southern was canceled after CSU was unable to leave Charleston in time due to Tropical Storm Ernesto. The Wildcats instead opened the event with a 3-0 drubbing of IUPUI, hitting .396 as a team to record the sixth-best single-match hitting percentage in program history.
After falling to the tournament hosts in five games in Kalamazoo, NU immediately flew to Hawaii to compete in the Waikiki Beach Marriott Volleyball Challenge. The Wildcats faced a pair of top-10 ranked opponents, battling eventual NCAA runner-up Stanford in a three-game loss before taking No. 9 Hawaii to the brink in all four games of a 3-1 setback. In that match, freshman libero Kate Nobilio (Johnsburg, Ill./Johnsburg) set the NU four-game match record with 34 digs, earning herself a place on the All-Tournament team.
NU concluded its time in Hawaii with a sweep of Fairfield before returning home to host the 25th Wildcat Classic, featuring Eastern Illinois, Pittsburgh and No. 24 Arizona. Northwestern went 3-0 in the event, including a thrilling five-game win over Arizona, to claim the tourney title. Juniors Lindsay Anderson (Wilmette, Ill./New Trier) and Stephanie Jurivich (LaGrange, Ill./St. Ignatius) earned All-Tournament team berths, while junior Courtnie Paulus (Belgium, Wis./Ozaukee) was named Tournament MVP.
Entering the Big Ten schedule with a 6-3 record, Northwestern opened with a home weekend against perennial powerhouses Minnesota and Wisconsin. Though unranked at the time of the first match, the Golden Gophers concluded their year by putting eventual- national champion Nebraska in an 0-2 hole before bowing out of the NCAA Tournament in the quarterfinals. Northwestern battled Minnesota into a fifth game in the Big Ten opener, but the Gophers prevailed to spawn a three-game NU skid to start conference play.
The Wildcats recovered to win four of their next six, including that upset victory over the 16th-ranked Buckeyes. Nobilio was named Big Ten Defensive Player of the Week after the weekend that included a loss to No. 2 Penn State, committing no reception errors and earning a match-best 25 digs against Ohio State.
Northwestern began the second half of the Big Ten schedule with a split at home against Michigan State and Michigan, earning a thrilling five-game win over UM in Welsh-Ryan Arena. Sophomore Chelsy Hyser (Belvidere, Ill./Belvidere) set the Northwestern single-match record with 15 blocks, a total that was the highest for any Big Ten student-athlete since 2000. She earned conference Defensive Player of the Week honors for her effort.
The victory sparked a three-match NU winning streak that included triumphs over Illinois and Iowa. The November 1 win against the Illini saw Anderson notch a match-high 21 kills to give her 1,008 for her career. She is the 17th member of the NU 1,000-kill club, and will enter her senior year ranked 15th all-time at NU with 1,090.
After the winning streak, the Wildcats faced a daunting final six-match stretch featuring contests with five ranked opponents. Despite dropping all five of those matches to finish the year under .500, NU fought hard. The 'Cats took the No. 10 Badgers to a fifth game after being down 0-2 in Madison, and took a game from No. 23 Purdue before ending up 8-12 in the Big Ten, good for a seventh-place tie with NCAA-Tournament bound Michigan.
Despite the disappointing 2006 final record, all signs point up for NU in 2007. Both of the Wildcats Big Ten POW honorees are underclassmen, while Nobilio also earned a spot on the Big Ten All-Freshman team -- NU's first such honoree since Drew Robertson in 2001. Another freshman, Ariel Baxterbeck (Menlo Park, Calif./Castilleja) saw significant time as a substitute server, eventually earning some starts toward the end of the year.
NU graduates three seniors from the 2006 team: Lauren Greenwood (Brentwood, Tenn./Brentwood), Cassie McLaughlin (Cary, Ill./Cary Grove) and Julie Purcell (Louisville, Ky./Assumption). Returning as seniors next year will be a trio of three-year starters in Anderson, Paulus and middle-blocker Brittney Aldridge (Hampshire, Ill./Hampshire), along with fifth-year senior setter Jurivich to give Northwestern one of the most veteran lineups in the Big Ten.
The youngsters returning for the 'Cats are record setters, adding even more talent to Northwestern's core of experience. In addition to Hyser's record-setting 15 blocks against Michigan, she twice had 12-block nights in 2006 and now accounts for three of the top six single-match blocking performances in school history.
Nobilio twice had more than 30 digs in a match, and finished fourth in the Big Ten in her first season with 4.71 digs per game (508 total), the second-best single-season total in school history. Several other Wildcats also finished on Northwestern single-season top-10 lists: Hyser ranks sixth in hitting percentage after turning in a .289 effort this year, Aldridge is sixth in block assists after notching 127 and Jurivich also is sixth with 1,215 assists.
Aldridge will begin her senior season ranked sixth in career block assists with 322, while Jurivich is eighth in career assists with 1,875. Anderson currently is second all-time at NU with 3.53 kills per game, while Hyser is second with a .287 career hitting percentage. Aldridge ranks right behind Hyser in hitting with a .275 average after three years.
Add to all of that the signing of what Chan terms "the most well-rounded recruiting class we have had in my time here" and Northwestern will have precocious freshmen challenging those record-setting veterans for floor time. Setter Elyse Glab (Chicago, Ill./Resurrection), middle blocker Naomi Johnson (Bloomington, Minn./Kennedy) and outside hitter Lindsay Kresch (Moon Township, Pa./Moon Area) comprise that incoming class.
The 2006 season tested Northwestern at the highest levels and in the most quintessential of volleyball environments. The Wildcats already are preparing for 2007, and have a ton of lessons and experiences from this season -- both successful and not-so-successful -- to draw from as they do.