After opening up conference play against three ranked opponents, two of which were road games, IU had its best chance thus far to earn a Big Ten victory Saturday night against Northwestern at home. Ultimately, the Hoosiers were able to do so, knocking off the Wildcats in four close sets - 26-24, 25-22, 21-25, and 27-25.
After switching to a 5-1 offensive system in Friday’s match against Illinois, IU switched back to its usual 6-2 system against Northwestern.
As a team, IU hit .172 compared to Northwestern’s .195. The Hoosiers' biggest advantage was in the blocks department. IU blocked 15 balls, while Northwestern only blocked seven.
“Our strength should be blocking,” head coach Steve Aird said. “Fifteen blocks is a good start. It’s hard to do against a team like that who’s so physical.”
Sophomore outside hitter Breana Edwards led IU in kills with 16, including the game-winner off an assist by freshman setter Emily Fitzner.
Fitzner notched her season-high with 28 assists on the night. Senior middle blocker Deyshia Lofton added 14 kills for the Hoosiers to go along with a team-high nine blocks.
The victory moves IU to 1-3 in conference and 12-5 overall. The loss for Northwestern knocks it down to 0-4 in conference and 9-7 on the season.
“We knew that we had to come out with some intensity and some fire,” Lofton said. “We did that, and we fought.”
IU was without redshirt senior outside hitter Kendall Beerman, whose playing time continues to be monitored as she recovers from a torn ACL. Also, senior middle blocker Hayden Huybers missed both matches this weekend with an upper body injury.
Saturday night’s match against Northwestern was marked as “Dig Pink Night” by the IU volleyball program, an event to raise awareness of breast cancer during Breast Cancer Awareness Month.
For Aird, the night had significant meaning to him as someone who has watched his mother and others in his life battle the disease.
“Everyone’s been touched by it [breast cancer],” Aird said. “It’s great that we put [this event] on. It’s great that we raise awareness, and it’s great that we raise money. We’ve got to keep doing it more.”
Next week, IU will have its first mid-week match as in-state rival No. 17 Purdue comes to Bloomington on Wednesday. The Boilermakers are currently 1-2 in conference and 9-3 overall, they have lost to Minnesota and Wisconsin on the road already, just like IU.
“I’d like to get to the point where we’re good enough that it becomes a rivalry,” Aird said. “We’re taking strides. I would anticipate over the next five or seven years there’s going to be some barnburners with Purdue, and I hope it starts on Wednesday."
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