VB Stuns Stanford, Tops Cal Poly to Win Stanford Invitational

VB Stuns Stanford, Tops Cal Poly to Win Stanford Invitational

I went into the weekend thinking I'd get to watch Purdue lose a close match to Stanford and then beat Cal Poly; I got one out of three right. I hit the Stanford website, disabled its ad-blocker nag, clicked on the video link, and ended up on the Pac-12 Network site. Sigh. Who the heck gets the Pac-12 Network outside the footprint? So I followed Friday's match on Stanford's game tracker (which was markedly better than CBSi's), stayed up late-late to get the thrilling conclusion, and went off to bed.

Saturday, as I was riveted to my chair because FOOBAW, I realized that the Indy Eleven match at Fort Lauderdale would be on about the same time as the Purdue-Cal Poly match. So I brought up Sling to see if it was on beIN Sports ... and saw Pac-12 Arizona, Pac-12 Bay Area.... wait. Pac-12 Bay Area? Well, poop. (In my defense, the agreement was reached the day before (!!), so it wasn't like I forgot something major.) Good news is that Sling also lets you watch archived events, so I may go back and watch the Stanford match again.

ANYWAY. The Boilers dropped a marathon opening set, 31-33, as the Cardinal fought off six set points. (I suspect there are plenty of teams who do not get six set points the entire match at Maples Pavilion. I've seen a basketball game there, and it can be a pretty intimidating places when it's full.) After a second-set whipping, 12-25, Purdue struck back in set 3, 25-23; held off three Cardinal match points to take set 4, 28-26; and led from the turn to 15 in the final set, finally putting it away 15-11. The #9 Cardinal had lost three sets in their last three matches against Big Tenteen opposition, but Purdue managed the same feat in just one.

After that, the Good Gals might be forgiven for having a bit of a letdown, and they definitely struggled a bit against the Mustangs Saturday. Cal Poly pushed Purdue to extra time in the first set before the Boilers prevailed 27-25. After a second-set win that was closer than it seemed (Purdue won 25-21, but the Mustangs never led), the home-state side thumped the Boilers in set 3, 14-25, and it looked like it might be yet another long match ... but Purdue held on to take set 4, 25-21, and win their second straight road tournament, moving to 7-1 overall and 14th in the latest AVCA poll.

Purdue 3, Stanford 2 (31-33, 12-25, 25-23, 28-26, 15-11)

Wow. Keep in mind that this match started at 11 PM Eastern time, on the road, against a top-ten opponent. The team deserves a ton of credit for hanging in there after a heartbreaking first-set loss and a crushing second-set loss. Also, the motivational yellow-card tactic returns in set 4 (I think).

Lineup was the same as usual, with Stahl, Evans, Adelaja, Atkinson, Mohler, and Danielle Cuttino starting, Haben at libero, and Peters and Damler rotating in. Rohrsen appeared briefly in two sets; Dorn and Shavona Cuttino played in one.

Set one went just about like you'd think as you saw the score. The Boilers jumped out early on an attack error and a block, but a service error by Evans gave Stanford the serve. An Atkinson kill put Purdue up 3-1 (which incredibly would be their only lead by more than a point); three straight Cardinal points gave the home side their first lead, 3-4. So it would go, with the sides trading momentum and points. The largest lead was held by Stanford at 6-9; two more attack errors made it 8-9, and after an Audriana Fitzmorris kill, a Cuttino kill and a Cuttino/Mohler block tied it at 10. Purdue didn't lead again for a long time, fighting back to tie after tie, until it was 19-19. Two Ivana Vanjak kills put the Cardinal up 19-21, forcing a Shondell timeout. Atkinson and Mohler prevented a third straight Vanjak kill, but two more Stanford points matched their largest lead, 20-23, and the Boilers used their remaining TO. Stahl and Evans responded with kills, forcing a Cardinal timeout; an attack error tied the match, and a Kathryn Plummer kill gave Stanford the first set point, 23-24. Purdue answered with an Adelaja kill, and a Plummer error put the Boilers at set point, 25-24; Stanford used its second timeout, but for the moment, they could do no better then even. They did keep the set alive at 26-25 and 27-26; an Atkinson error made it 27-28 Cardinal, but Cuttino and Stahl had back-to-back kills and Purdue had set point #4, 29-28. Trading points again, a solo block by Inky Ajanaku saved set point #5, and an Ajanaku kill saved the sixth, tying the set at 31. Purdue would not score again, as an ace by Halland McKenna put Stanford on the doorstep, and a final kill by Ajanaku walked them through. 31 points is small consolation when you lose the set.

Purdue's rotation changed slightly for set 2, with Damler on the floor instead of Atkinson. It ... did not go well. A Mohler kill brought Atkinson back in for Damler, but then Stanford reeled off eight straight points, and the set was effectively over. The Boilers scored on their own serve just four times; before a late four-point run got Purdue into double digits, it was 7-21 Stanford. Shondell had used his second timeout at 2-10, so the rest of the way, all he could do was watch and coach, and probably hope like heck for the set to end so they could go to the locker room and reset things.

That they did, as set 3 was more like set 1 at the beginning, but unlike the first two at the end. Two early Haben aces (most likely the first consecutive aces of the Purdue season) got the Boilers a 3-1 lead; they'd push it to 5-2 after an Evans ace (who IS this team?), but sure enough, the Cardinal came back, scoring four straight to turn an 8-5 Purdue lead into an 8-9 Stanford lead. (The set went back and forth enough that they actually needed a media timeout at 14-15.) The Good Gals would trail as late as 16-17, but a Mohler ace (I know!) put them in front to stay, 18-17. The hosts used both timeouts to slow things down, and each time, they produced a one-point run. At 24-21, Ajanaku hit through a Cuttino block to make it 24-22; Stahl was blocked by Ajanaku and Plummer on the next point, and suddenly Purdue was using a timeout. It worked, as Mohler put down the winner, and Purdue was on the board, 25-23.

The Good Gals started set 4 on fire, running off four straight points and forcing a Stanford timeout. The Cardinal got two back, and after matching three-point runs, a Cuttino kill got Purdue up 8-5, but another three-point run tied it. Shondell used his first timeout and got the next point; Stanford would not lead again until the 20s. Before that, there was controversy, and I'd like to thank Pac-12 Bay Area for having the match replay available. At 18-15, Sherridan Atkinson hit one off a double block and out of bounds, as ruled by the up official ... but the down official gave Stanford the point. The officials conferred and confirmed the call; without replay, there was nothing more they could do. Instead of 19-15, it was 18-16, and then 18-17. Purdue called a timeout, and during the break, Evans went over to talk to the up ref. The conversation continued through the next point (19-17 Purdue), and eventually Shondell got his yellow. So the sides traded points until 21-19; a Mohler/Evans block of Merete Lutz put the Boilers up three, but Stanford ran off three to tie, and this time the team earned a card, or so the scorebook says - I didn't see it on the replay. Match point #1 at 23-24: a Mohler kill ties it. Match point #2 at 24-25: a Mohler kill ties it. Match point #3 at 25-26: a Stahl kill ties it. Ajanaku hit it long to give the Boilers set point, and Stahl put an Evans set away to even the match, 2-2.

Purdue struck first in the final set, going up 1-0 on an Adelaja kill, but they wouldn't lead again on that side of the net. Stanford slowly opened up a 4-7 lead ... and then ran into a brick wall. Atkinson kill, 5-7. Damler ace, 6-7. Bad set, 7-7. Stahl/Adelaja block, 8-7 and switch. Stahl kill, 9-7 and timeout Stanford. Fitzmorris error, 10-7. Stahl kill, 11-7 and timeout Stanford. Stahl kill, 12-7. (At this point, I think the Pac-12 Network announcers were ready to let Stahl go pro - they were very complimentary of her play, and of the team in general. I like them.) Finally, Fitzmorris was able to stop the run, but the damage was done; a Hayley Hodson ace provided the only back-to-back Stanford points the rest of the way, and that only got them to 13-10. Hodson had a service error on the next point, and while a Vanjak kill took care of Purdue match point #1, Mohler put #2 on the Maples Pavilion floor, and the Boilers were exhausted winners.

You may have seen Azariah Stahl's name in the space: she had a huge match, leading everyone with 20 kills (.137) and adding 9 digs, 2 blocks and an assist. Adelaja continued her torrid pace, hitting .417 on 24 attacks; Cuttino added 18 kills and Mohler matched Adelaja with 11. Haben paced Purdue with 23 digs, offsetting 4 return errors, and served 2 of Purdue's 5 aces. Surprisingly, the Boilers were just -1 (6 errors), and Stanford's +4 (7/3) was enough to make a difference, but not enough to offset the timing of the errors. Mohler led Purdue with 3 blocks (6 assists).

Ajanaku led Stanford with 16 kills at .517; Fitzmorris had 15 and Vanjak 13. Libero Morgan Hentz had a match-high 27 digs, and Hodson had 13 digs and 3 aces to go with her late service error. Ajanaku and Fitzmorris had 8 block assists apiece, with Plummer adding 7, as Stanford outblocked Purdue 17-11. (That's not going to happen often this season; Stanford's tied for second in blocks per set with 3.50, behind only Minnesota at 3.66, and yes, the Cardinal outblocked them too, 17.5 to 12.5.)

Purdue 3, Cal Poly 1 (27-25, 25-21, 14-25, 25-21)

The broadcast got off to a rough start; it was basically the equivalent of BTN+, whereas Purdue-Stanford was more like whatever an upgrade from BTN would be. They did apologize for not having a score bug, but I had the game tracker open on another monitor ... which was, of course, ahead of the video feed, but we won so who cares?

No lineup changes from the first match. Rohrsen played in two sets and recorded an assist and a service error; Dorn and Shavona Cuttino did not play.

The short turnaround may have had some effect on Purdue; they did score the opening point of set 1, but didn't string together consecutive points until after a timeout at 9-13; that was the result of a 5-0 Cal Poly run that featured three kills by Adlee Van Winden. A 5-1 run tied the match at 14, but the Mustangs refused to fade, and while Purdue tied again at 15, 16, and 17, they still couldn't retake the lead. At 19-21, two straight points prompted a Cal Poly timeout; the sides traded points through 23-23, when an Adelaja kill got the Boilers the lead the needed at set point, 24-23. A second Mustang timeout drew a Stahl service error, and the Mustangs used a Van Winden kill to get their own set point and a Purdue timeout. From there, it was an Evans kill, a Van Winden error, and a Haben ace that brought the Boilers set 1, 27-25.

Purdue led basically the entire second set, with the only tie at 1-1, but the Mustangs played very well in the second half. With Stahl at the service line, Purdue took an 8-5 lead and made it 12-5, spanning a Mustang timeout. Raeann Greisen finally got Cal Poly the serve ... and they ran off four across a Purdue timeout to cut the lead to 12-10. The next time they had a longer run than Purdue, it was 19-15, and the Mustangs got within 19-17 and 20-19 before the Boilers pushed through, closing the set on an Atkinson kill and an Atkinson/Mohler block of Van Winden.

Just as Purdue came back after the break against Stanford, so too did Cal Poly on Saturday. An error and two blocks put the Mustangs up 0-3; closing to 2-3 and 3-4 on Cuttino kills, Purdue could not tie it, and the dam finally burst with Jessica McRoskey serving at 13-7. Four straight points, including two aces, gave Cal Poly a double-digit lead, and they would lead 20-9 and 21-10 before closing the set on a Van Winden/Savannah Niemen block of Evans. 14-25 is never a good result, but sometimes it's best to get all your mistakes out in one set. Unfortunately, that didn't quite happen.

The first half of set 4 was Cal Poly playing "anything you can do, we can do better." 2-1 Purdue became 3-5 Mustangs; 6-5 Purdue, 6-11 Cal Poly. Shondell burned a timeout at 6-9 and saw the Mustangs score two more points off blocks before another Van Winden error halted the run. A little later, at 8-12, it was Purdue's turn for a run, as a Stahl ace and two Cuttino kills keyed a 5-0 burst that got the Boilers in front temporarily. From there, it looked like the teams would stay even through 25 and beyond, but kills from Atkinson and Adelaja turned 18-18 into 20-18 and the last Cal Poly timeout, and two Greisen attack errors gave Purdue a safe lead. The sides traded points until Cuttino's final kill put away the set and the match, 25-21.

With Stahl apparently recharging her adamantium pack, Cuttino took control, hitting .447 on a team-leading 44 attacks for a match-leading 21 kills. Adelaja hit .400 with 14 kills and Atkinson added 12 at .222. (Evans was well-defended in both matches, hitting just -.125 in this one. Word is that she is telegraphing her attacks, and these results seem to bear that out.) Haben and Stahl led Purdue with 13 and 12 digs; the service line, however, was once again an albatross, with the Boilers recording a -5 (aces from Haben and Stahl, 7 errors). Adelaja led everyone with 3.5 blocks, with Cuttino adding 3.

Van Winden did the best she could for Cal Poly, hitting just .217 on 46 attacks, giving her a team-leading 19 kills. Greisen had 12 on .241, and Alexis Clewis hit .280 with 11 kills. Katherine Brouker posted a match-high 18 digs, with Mika Dickson adding 10, and Van Winden also had a solo block and four assists for 3 total blocks. The Mustangs were -2 from the line, with 4 aces (2 by McRoskey) and 6 errors (2 each from Van Winden and Niemen).

Overall thoughts

This was not what I was expecting, not going into the match and certainly not down 0-1 and 0-2. The last couple of years, the Boilers have posted pretty good records, but they've not really had a marquee road win, and it's cost them come tournament time: they missed the Dance in 2014 and had a low enough seed in 2015 that they were running into a buzzsaw in the second round. Stanford, at Stanford, is a marquee road win. Cal Poly likely won't make the tournament, because the Big West is basically Hawai'i and nobody else, but they're still pretty good, and there's something to be said for defeating two Pacific Time Zone teams in less than 24 hours on their time.

Again, those announcers could not say enough things about Azariah. At 3.61 kills per set, she's not quite among the country's leaders yet, but she's hitting much better than last season (.234 going into the Cal Poly match compared to .179 in 2015), and she's already posted the first 5 aces of her career ... as well as recording 9 solo blocks, which matches her total from all of 2015. (She's far surpassed her digs from last season as well, but in 2015, it was Sam Epenesa who was playing those minutes.) If she can continue to develop her swing, the Boilers will have a solid outside counterpart to Adelaja, and with Mohler, Cuttino, and Atkinson all getting into rhythm, Purdue may well end up in a better spot than last year.

Peters is still struggling with her serve; she's averaging close to 0.5 errors per set, or roughly 2 per match. This is far off her ratio from last year (30/56 then, 4/16 now), so hopefully it's something she can work through - right now, she's responsible for more than half Purdue's score from the line (-19: 28 aces, 47 errors). 

I'd like to see Dorn and Rohrsen get more playing time against weaker opponents; that hasn't happened so far even though the opportunities have been there. Redshirts for both have been burned, and experience for Dorn in particular is vital in case anything happens to the person who's had the vast majority of S playing time the last two seasons. Of course, a general "be healthy" applies to everyone on the team. When you have almost no depth, every player is vitally important.

Next up

It's Holloway time, as the Good Gals return to West Lafayette for the Stacey Clark Classic. Southeastern Louisiana will be their first opponent, Friday morning at 10 AM, but the highlight of the weekend will definitely be the #14 Boilers hosting #4 Kansas; the Jayhawks have run off 9 straight wins to start the season and have only been pushed to three sets twice (by Arkansas in Lawrence and by Creighton at Creighton). Purdue will be their most challenging opponent to date, and on the road, KU might be in for a surprise. That match starts at about 7:30 PM Friday; root for SE Louisiana and Xavier to go to five sets if you're running late yourself. The Boilers will return to the court Saturday at 6 PM to face the Musketeers.

Southeastern Louisiana is the Lions. They play in the Southland Conference. They are not very good. Kansas we already covered; Xavier is off to an unimpressive 5-5 start that includes losses at Illinois and Dayton (ok), home to Chattanooga (oh), and away to Miami OH and Western Michigan (um ...). They managed a five-set win in their opener against Missouri State, who is currently receiving votes right between Dayton and Illinois, so I guess that's something. (Stanford's opening loss to San Diego doesn't seem bad at all now that the Toreros have knocked off Colorado and UCLA and have lost only to Minnesota and Wisconsin.)

All three matches will be available on BTN+, which means pay up or no soup for you. Massey says sweeps of the weaker opponents and a five-set loss to Kansas, which I think would be OK. This is the start of a seven-match home stand that currently includes three top-10 AVCA and Massey opponents, with a road trip to Iowa and consensus #1 Nebraska next, so it's important to keep expectations in check. 4-3 would be nice, 5-2 would be great, 6-1 or 7-0 would mean something has really clicked for this team. 3-4? Well, just don't make one of the four Indiana. I like the Monon Spike where it is, you know?

I know, I'd like official pics too, but there aren't any. I mean, even the official Twitter account is using photos from past home matches. Hey, it's better than what FloVolleyball did: they used a picture with Kate Workman, Annie Drews, Sam Epenesa, and Amanda Neill in it. I'm sure they are all proud of the program and all, but they were all seniors in 2015. Thanks for making it the upset of the week, though!

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