Northwest volleyball faced another up-and-down weekend Oct. 11-12 as the Bearcats battled Central Oklahoma and Newman University.
Northwest began the weekend in front of 425 Bearcat fans Oct. 11 in Bearcat Arena against Central Oklahoma. Coming off of a loss to Nebraska-Kearney, the ’Cats were trying to avoid two straight losses for the first time this season.
Central Oklahoma was able to keep an energetic offensive rhythm going, as the Bronchos hit .221% and had 49 kills in three sets. Central Oklahoma also had a strong offensive right side that caused trouble for Northwest.
Coach Amy Woerth believes Central Oklahoma’s gameplan messed with the focus that Northwest took into the contest.
“Their right side bothered us, from the standpoint that we were focusing on them versus us,” Woerth said. “We spent a lot of time being frustrated by them and not necessarily looking at ourselves and rallying.”
The ’Cats fell short for the third time this season as they were swept in three sets by scores of 25-21, 25-21 and 25-22. The Bearcats were in positions to put sets away, being up 18-14 in the first set, and locked in at 20-20 in the third set. Central Oklahoma got the better end of the 17 tied scores and nine lead changes.
Northwest had trouble finding an offensive attack when they were closing sets. The Bearcats hit a mere 0.160% on the night and never hit more than 0.200% in a set. Costly attack errors allowed Central Oklahoma to capitalize on a 22-20 lead in the third set. Northwest also trailed in sideout percentages throughout the match.
To this point in the season, Northwest has heavily relied on its offense. The Bearcats are 0-3 on the year when they hit less than 0.200% in a game.
“There’s going to be times where we need to come up with some big passes and come up with some plays in general,” Woerth said. “Central Oklahoma made those big plays, and we didn’t respond the way we should’ve. The big piece of everything we do is through our offense, so when our offense isn’t producing, what are we going to do in those challenges?”
Northwest saw an uptick in production from junior outside hitter Hallie Sidney as she recorded a team-high 15 kills. Junior setter Maddy Ahrens added a double-double with 36 assists and 13 digs. Junior middle blocker Morgan Lewis tried to get the offense going with 14 kills and hitting a team-best 0.294%.
The loss to the Bronchos was the first time since 2017 that Northwest was swept in a match. It brought a streak of 24 consecutive wins in three-set matches to an end. Woerth doesn’t believe a sweep is due to a lack of effort but the stress of staying focus through a long season.
“Anytime you get into the part of the season where your school work gets on top of things, it becomes harder to focus,” Woerth said. “Those aren’t excuses; we have to find ways to overcome. You have to go through these things to learn how to get better and learn what has to be changed. “
After two straight losses, Woerth is experimenting with new players to throw into the offensive rotation. Woerth mentioned no changes to how her team prepares for a team or the need to stray away from their identity.
“I think our game plans are sound; we just need to execute them at a higher level,” Woerth said. “We need to focus on what’s important now. Just the ability to balance stress and focus is something we’ll work on.”
Northwest finished the weekend in a return to Bearcat Arena against Newman University. The Bearcats never let the Jets into the game, they won by scores of 25-14, 25-21 and 25-17. In some ways, the match served as a way for Northwest to take out frustrations from the recent struggles. This win snapped Northwest’s two-game losing streak and moved them to 13-3 overall and 5-2 in the MIAA.
Northwest regathered their offense and hit 0.250% while tallying 49 kills and 41 assists. Northwest also implemented a new blocking scheme the day of, which resulted in Newman only hitting 0.103% with only 25 kills and 32 total points.
“I think our offensive level was better than theirs,” Woerth said. “Our girls did a really good job of running that new blocking scheme to stop the fast-paced offense of Newman. Our girls did a good job of responding to our defensive coaches and making changes.”
Sidney was able to contribute 14 kills with as many digs, giving the junior her fourth straight double-double, bringing her season total to nine. Lewis tallied 13 kills while hitting 0.367% and freshman Emmy Grant produced three of the four Northwest blocks.
The loss against Central Oklahoma dropped the Bearcats to No. 14 in the American Volleyball Coaches Association Top 25 Poll and No. 3 in the MIAA standings.
The Bearcats have the ability to move up in the rankings this upcoming weekend as they go back on the road Oct. 18-19. They will face Emporia State Oct. 18, then No. 4 ranked Washburn Oct. 19. Woerth is not feeling pressured with the tough road trip ahead.
“We just need to play the best volleyball that we can together and do our game plan at the highest level,” Woerth said. “I know a lot of people pay attention to the MIAA standings, but when it really comes down to it, it matters what you do in the process. We have to get immersed in the process and have the right focus. We’re task-oriented, and that’s what we’ll continue to work on.”