Wildcats prevail in Big East showdown



Claire Ferry

The volleyball team made a statement last Friday in its annual “Spike it to Cancer” match against Creighton, taking down the top-ranked Big East opponent in a five-set stunner (27-25, 22-25, 25-23, 19-25, 19-17).  

More importantly, however, the game promoted a greater cause—proceeds from the victory were sent to the Robert H. Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Center of Northwestern University. 

The showdown between the first- and second-ranked conference teams proved every bit as competitive as predicted.  Each team claimed two sets, with Creighton taking the fourth to send the match into a tie-breaking game.

The Wildcats had an opportunity to decisively end the match in the fifth set at 14-12, but the Bluejays fought off an incredible seven ‘Nova match points to stay alive. The thriller only came to a conclusion after a kill by junior Claire Crutchfield and a hitting error by Creighton, snapping the Bluejays’ 12-game winning streak.

Emma Pettit had an outstanding night, tallying a career-high 67 assists and 19 digs. The team’s offense remained balanced as usual with double-digit kills from five different Wildcats. Crutchfield collected 20 kills on the night, while sophomore Allie Loitz posted 18 kills and 14 digs.

Although the thrilling win provides the team with incredible momentum, the “Spike it to Cancer” match proved especially meaningful with the return of Gabby Pethokoukis.  The redshirt junior middle blocker was treated for Burkitt’s lymphoma at the Lurie Center beginning in April 2014. Her story serves as motivation for the team, especially with her return to the court this season.

Regarding her ability to play in the annual match this year,” Pethokoukis said. “It’s really special for me to be able to give back to the Lurie Center that was great to me throughout the whole process.”

Pethokoukis’ return has played a large role in fortifying ‘Nova’s presence at the net this year, both on offense and defense.  In Friday’s match she recorded 13 kills and four blocks, only committing one hitting error.

Brittany Rembert, a fellow teammate and senior middle, added, “Just seeing her on the court and her presence gives everyone a will to win.  Tonight wasn’t just a game—it meant a lot more to us.”

With this momentum behind it, the team forges on in conference play.  It ousted Georgetown in a three-set sweep the next day by a margin of 25-8, 25-18, and 26-24. Losses from St. John’s and Seton Hall helped solidify the Wildcats’ first Big East tournament berth since 2011. 

Matches this weekend against Butler and Xavier will be indications of ‘Nova’s chances in tournament play.  The team defeated the latter fairly comfortably in four sets, but Butler posed more of a challenge.  Down two sets to one, the Wildcats had to fight back and force a fifth set, which they won. The result of these rematches this weekend will illustrate the team’s growth from its previous meetings in mid-October.  

The team’s diverse offense continues to be orchestrated by senior setter Emma Pettit, who was recently named the Big East Player of the Week for her performances against Creighton and Georgetown.  She leads the conference with 1,065 assists and 11.3 assists per set. ‘Nova’s dynamic offensive weapons will be vital to success in the future as teams adjust to its tendencies. 

If the standings remain the same, ‘Nova will likely face Marquette in the first round of Big East tournament play.  Should it move on, the team could potentially face Creighton for the third time this season on the Bluejays’ home court.

While much is at stake—the winner of the Big East tournament is granted an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament—the Wildcats remain focused on the five games remaining in conference play.  By securing a conference tournament berth, however, the team has taken the first step to control its post-season destiny.