Northwestern’s 2015 season was a roller coaster ride. Despite finishing under .500 for the first time since 2008, the Wildcats experienced some truly memorable moments. On October 10, NU took down defending national champion Penn State in front of a packed home crowd, by all accounts one of the biggest wins in program history.
However, the valleys seemed deeper than the peaks were high. There were numerous stretches last season when, on a long losing streak, the Cats failed to even win a set. NU went 6-14 in conference games, though that record can partially be attributed to the fact that the Big Ten is arguably the best volleyball conference in the country.
The Cats are hoping some changes will rectify these problems. Shane Davis was hired as the new coach, replacing Keylor Chan after Chan spent 16 years at the helm. Davis is coming off back-to-back national championships at the Loyola men’s program, and NU is hoping he can bring similar success to Evanston.
On the court, the Cats will be led by junior setter Taylor Tashima, who has started almost every game since arriving as a freshman. Tashima, who recently overcame a health scare, finished fifth in the conference with 10.89 assists per set and totaled more than 2,000 assists on the season, earning a Big Ten honorable mention for her efforts.
The front line will be comprised of juniors Symone Abbott and Gabrielle Hazen and seniors Kayla Morin and Maddie Slater. Abbott electrified as a freshman and improved as a sophomore, routinely notching double-digit kills. Slater and Morin were steady presences in the front last season, and Hazen contributed as well despite missing a few games due to illness.
NU will need to find a replacement for now-graduated libero Caroline Niedospial, the team’s best defensive player in 2015. The Cats have two liberos on the roster, sophomore Katie Kniep and redshirt-freshman Kaitlin Tavarez. Kniep will get the first crack at the starting job as Tavarez did not appear in a match last season, but it remains to be seen how the two will rotate, if at all, given the massive hole that Niedospial leaves behind.