This past weekend, the Wildcats went on the road to Chicago, Ill. and Milwaukee, Wis., in an attempt to extend their seven-match winning streak, the program’s best since a pair of eight-match runs during the 2015 season. Unfortunately, breaking the mark set by Wildcats Head Coach Josh Steinbach’s last NCAA tournament team was not in the cards for this year’s tournament hopefuls. In Chicago on Friday, the Wildcats suffered a shock defeat to the Blue Demons (13-15, 5-11 Big East) in five sets (25-21, 20-25, 19-25, 20-25, 10-15). Saturday evening presented the perfect opportunity for the Wildcats to salvage the weekend trip with a second signature win against a No. 9 ranked team in the nation – this time the Marquette Golden Eagles – but they were unable to pull off another upset, falling to the Golden Eagles in four sets (25-23, 24-26, 18-25, 19-25).
The match against the Blue Demons started off as expected for the Wildcats, but after winning the first set the ‘Cats never led again, as they lost the following two and could only tie the match in the fourth before conceding the fifth tiebreaker set. Despite the loss, freshman middle hitter Kathleen Johnson contributed the team with 14 kills while also contributing three blocks and digs apiece. This performance continued a somewhat unexpected breakout season for the true freshman, a breakout that has been helped by the recent injury to sophomore Sanaä Barnes. Other major contributors in the loss were senior setter Emma Decker – who put up one of her best setting performances of the season with 51 assists – and sophomore middle hitter Sophia Howling – who led the team with 19 kills.
The weekend’s second match started out promisingly for the Wildcats, as they snuck out a close victory in a first set that was neck and neck throughout before losing the second set by the narrowest of margins – the two teams had to go through the rarity of a set requiring a 26th point in order for a team to win by two. This close set loss was made even more painful by the fact the Wildcats led late, at 20-19. After allowing the Golden Eagles to come back and tie the match 1-1, the Wildcats were unable to hold their higher-ranked foes off any longer. The Golden Eagles won both the third and fourth sets handily and were able to avoid their second Big East loss of the season after an early scare. Senior outside hitter Allie Barber (20 kills), freshman outside hitter Hannah Vanden Berg (12 kills, 9 digs, 3 blocks) and junior outside hitter Hope Werch (16 kills, 14 digs) led the way for the Golden Eagles, causing more problems than the Wildcats could hold off. Howling, Barnes, sophomore hitter Clare Delaplane and junior outside hitter Mallory Potts had double digit kills for the Wildcats in the loss.
The Wildcats will hope to get back to their winning ways this weekend as they head to Seton Hall on Friday to face the Pirates at 7:00 p.m. before heading home for a Sunday matinee in Queens against the St. John’s Red Storm at 2:00 p.m.