Dec. 3, 2010

Courtesy of Northwestern Athletics

Making its first NCAA tournament appearance in five years, and the first for any of the current players, Northwestern made the most of its opportunity, taking an emotional 25-18, 25-20, 18-25, 25-20 victory over 20th-ranked Arizona. Northwestern now advances to Saturday's second round and will take on either Northern Iowa or Missouri at 4 p.m. at the McLeod Center.

"This match meant a lot to our entire team, and they made sure to make the most of their opportunity," said head coach Keylor Chan. "Our seniors have been fighting for four, or in some cases, five years to make it here, and it was something that meant a lot to them to make their mark on the program. I thought everyone played unbelievably tonight as we put together one of our most complete matches of the season. We just wanted to continue to play as long as we could, and we get at least one more match together as a family."

Four different Wildcats recorded double-digit kills on the night as the team collectively hit .364 on the evening, recording 61 kills on 140 attempts with just 10 hitting errors. Naomi Johnson (Bloomington, Minn./Kennedy) paced the Northwestern attack with 15 kills, 13 of which came in the opening two sets. Stephanie Holthus (Burlington, Ill./Central) and Christina Kaelin (Louisville, Ky./Assumption) then came on strong in the final two sets for the Wildcats, recording 13 and 12 kills respectively.

Sabel Moffett (Temecula, Calif./Chapparal), who returned for a fifth year with the sole goal of making the tournament, finished with 11 kills and six blocks on the night, including the match-clinching block in set four. Elyse Glab (Chicago, Ill./Resurrection) also came up huge for Northwestern, dishing out 51 assists with three kills, eight digs and three blocks.

Additionally, four Wildcats recorded double-digit dig totals, paced by a match-high 15 from Holthus for her 12th career double-double. Julie Chin (Naperville, Ill./North) finished with 12 digs for Northwestern with Madalyn Shalter (Ottawa, Ohio/Ottawa-Glandorf) posting 11 digs and seven kills for the 'Cats and Alex Ayers (Playa del Rey, Calif./Marymount) adding 10.

Coming into the match, Northwestern and Arizona appeared to be very similar teams in more ways than just their nickname and the opening set proved it. Both teams battled back and forth with neither able to open up more than a one-point edge, combining for 11 ties and five lead changes. But with the set tied at 13, the Wildcats put together a pair of extended runs, building a seven-point cushion at 20-13, matching Arizona down the stretch to take the opener 25-18. Johnson posted seven kills in the first with Moffett adding five kills and a pair of blocks.

That momentum gained in set one carried over into the second, as after falling behind 6-5 early, Northwestern reeled off a 6-2 run to build a four-point lead at 11-7. Another 6-2 run a little while later put the purple Wildcats in control at 20-13 and Northwestern would keep Arizona at bay down the stretch, holding off a late desert Wildcat run to take the second 25-20. Johnson and Moffett came up big once again, notching six and four kills respectively as Northwestern hit .485 (18 kills, two errors, 33 attempts) in the stanza.

Set three looked like it would play out in similar fashion to the first two as a 4-0 run by Northwestern pushed the Wildcats out to a three-point lead at 9-6. But this time, it was Arizona that found its spark after a timeout, using a 12-3 run of its own to build its biggest lead of the night at 18-13. That advantage would be extended to seven at 24-17 before Arizona captured the third 25-18.

Similar to the opening set, the fourth installment saw both sets of Wildcats fight point for point as the pair combined for 13 ties and three lead changes, leading up to a 13-13 deadlock. But a pair of Northwestern points before the media timeout seemed to be the spark it needed as the Wildcats slowly began to pull away, building a five-point cushion at 22-17. Kills by Holthus and Kaelin brought Northwestern to match point at 24-20, and then Arizona's final attempt was rejected by Moffett, giving Northwestern the second postseason victory in program history.

With the victory, Northwesten reached its 20th win on the season, the first for the program since the 2005 NCAA tournament season and the second time under coach Chan. It also marks the 10th occasion the Wildcats have reached the 20-win plateau in the history of the program. Northwestern notches its fifth win of the season over a top-20 program and improves to 2-7 all-time in the postseason.

Northwestern will get a little time to savor the victory before returning to the court at the McLeod Center to face the winner of Northern Iowa and Missouri in Saturday's NCAA second round tilt. Opening serve is set for 4 p.m. as the match will be streamed live for free at Gametracker live stats and Twitter updates at NU_SportsLIVE will also be available.