EVANSTON, Ill. — Northwestern (11-6, 3-3 Big Ten) slayed a giant in the form of No. 3 Penn State (15-2, 4-2 Big Ten) on Saturday night, capturing a dramatic 3-2 victory at home.
"It's an incredible feeling. Penn State is a very high-profile, well-known program," said sophomore Taylor Tashima. "We knew, coming into this game, we had to come to play."
Tashima logged a match-high 52 assists — passing the 1,500 assist mark in her career. She also recorded her sixth double-double of the season, tallying 10 digs.
By her side, sophomore Symone Abbott and junior Kayla Morin had 17 and 15 kills, respectively. Morin had her second double-double of the season, recording a season-high 14 digs.
The 'Cats handed the Nittany Lions only their second loss of the season. The victory was the first one over Penn State for NU since Nov. 23, 2002.
"I thought we hit the best we've hit all year," said head coach Keylor Chan. "You have to challenge the block, you have to take risks, and if they block you, so be it."
Northwestern started the game neck-and-neck, trading points in the first set until the score read 18-18. That is when junior Rafae Strobos stepped in to serve and the Wildcats rattled off seven straight points to claim the first set from the Nittany Lions.
The 'Cats continued to trade points with Penn State in the second set, as Morin and junior Maddie Slater hit .500 and .462, respectively, in the first two frames. Behind that efficiency, the Wildcats almost snared the second set as well, before Penn State took three points out of four to steal the set, 25-23.
After falling behind 8-4 to start the third game, Northwestern stormed back to tie it at nine, then continued their run to mount a 16-11 lead. Another flurry of runs brought the set to 24-24, when a diving dig by sophomore Caroline Niedospial kept the point alive for an Abbott kill. Abbott then secured the next point to give Northwestern a 2-1 advantage.
The Nittany Lions roared to a 25-17 fourth set win, forcing a fifth set. With a raucous Welsh-Ryan Arena behind them, Northwestern took two-thirds of the first fifteen points, claiming a 10-5 advantage.
After trading points to make it 12-8, Tashima stuffed a would-be kill, but a disputed call gave the point to Penn State.
But the 'Cats didn't let any confusion haunt them. At 13-11, a Nittany Lions attack went long, giving the Wildcats match point.
And at 14-12, a Tashima set met the hand of junior Sofia Lavin, who, for the tenth time on the night, drove the ball into the hardwood for the upset win.
This was only the second five-set match of the season for Northwestern, and the team has won both of them. This was only the fourth match to go longer than three sets.
Chan believes that, even though his team mounted a historic win, they still need to maintain composure.
"This team is searching for a level of confidence and an identity and I've been talking about the process and how much work we have to put through that, and we don't want the wins and losses to define us," he said.