VB Rocks #4 Jayhawks, Captures Stacey Clark Classic Title

VB Rocks #4 Jayhawks, Captures Stacey Clark Classic Title

Who says you can't go home? Friday morning, Purdue volleyball returned to Holloway after a two weeks that included a 3-0 weekend at Notre Dame and a 2-0 road trip to Stanford. Saturday evening, they wrapped up a stellar weekend that saw them move to 10-1 overall, #10 in the AVCA poll released today, and #9 in Massey's volleyball ratings. The highlight of the weekend, though, was the match in between, where the Good Gals thrashed then-unbeaten Kansas in four sets, with at least three set points in all four sets and an authoritative 25-14 rout in set 4. 

The event formerly known as the Boiler Box Challenge, the second of two two-day tournaments the Boilers host annually, was renamed starting in 2016 to honor Stacey Lynn Craib Clark, the long-time face of the Gold Block booster club. Clark was honored during the 2015 event and presented with the Golden Hammer for her service; she passed away in February. Coach Shondell took the mic during both evening matches (and presumably the morning one as well) to recognize her for her service and to ensure she'd be remembered - Friday evening's match should do more than a little to help with that.

Purdue 3, Southeastern Louisiana 0 (25-15, 25-11, 25-17)

New Boilers tame the Lions, as S Lexi Dorn sets MB Blake Mohler late in set 2

I'll admit it. I skipped this match, the first one I've missed in a couple of years. It was early (another 10 AM start), the Lions were obviously overmatched (you have no idea how many times I've typed those words in my life), and the weather probably wouldn't be conducive to wandering around campus like it was during the Mortar Board Premier (it most definitely wasn't). 

As it turns out, all I really missed was the first real action for freshman S Lexi Dorn. She rotated in for Ashley Evans late in set 2 and recorded her first three assists as a Boiler to help close out the set. The Lions held early one-point leads and were tied as late as 8-8, but a 4-0 run opened things up a bit, and a season-high 12-point run with Natalie Haben at the service line helped Purdue to an easy victory.

The first set was the only one with Purdue's normal starting lineup; the Lions scored first in this set as well, but quickly found themselves down 6-2 and never got closer than three the rest of the way; a 7-1 run capped by an Azariah Stahl ace put the set in Purdue's column.

Set three started with both Shavona Cuttino (who'd started set 2) and Sherridan Atkinson on the floor, and turned out to be relatively close until the end. Reversing roles, the Boilers scored first but found themselves behind early; consecutive blocks by Elyssa Purcell and Savannah Alcazar on Stahl put the Lions up 3-5. The teams traded the lead until a Danielle Cuttino kill broke a 9-9 tie; Southeastern Louisiana made a 3-point run to close to 14-15 midway through the set, but could not string together consecutive points again, and a Danielle kill closed out the final set and the match.

As you might expect, the stats heavily favored the Boilers. Danielle led everyone with 11 kills and hit .526; Faye Adelaja added 8 kills at .889 and Ashley Evans posted 7 at .667, with Purdue outhitting the Lions .342 to .063. Haben (12) and Carissa Damler (10) were the only players in double figures in digs, and blocks were relatively low too, with Danielle leading everyone with 2 (Purdue outblocked SELa 5-4). The Lions' return struggles helped the Boilers fire 10 aces against just 6 errors, coming from Haben (5/1 error), Stahl (4/.1) and Brooke Peters (1/0).

The second match of the six-match weekend featured Xavier and Kansas; surprisingly, the 5-5 Musketeers pushed the Jayhawks to 5 sets before falling, 15-25, 25-20, 25-23, 23-25, 5-15. That would be a sign of things to come for Kansas.

Purdue 3, Kansas 1 (25-21, 24-26, 25-19, 25-14)

Your tiny little people are no match for BOOM

Unseasonably hot weather made for an uncomfortable atmosphere in Holloway for the highlight of the weekend. Unlike the last homestand, in this one, volunteers were wiping the court after every point without waiting to be summoned; as a result, I didn't see anyone slipping during play. It also prevented Kansas from using the same tactic Kentucky used to defuse Purdue rallies - the stoppages became routine, and so the crowd had no problem filling the gaps between points. 

In part, this was because Purdue put on a performance that I hadn't seen in quite some time. I'm not sure if it's the best I've seen in person - they beat Massey #4 Minnesota last year in 5, forced eventual NCAA champion Penn State to 5 sets in 2014, and swept Nebraska in 2013 - but if it's not, it sure was up there. There were just 7 lead changes in the entire four-set match, the Boilers dominated basically every category in the box score, and it didn't even require a timely yellow card. (In fact, the officiating may also have been the best I've seen at Holloway. There were very few calls that were even questioned.)

Set one was in Kansas' court early on, as they jumped out in front 0-2 and continued to repel Boiler efforts to take the lead; eventually, an Ainise Havili service error gave Purdue an 8-7 lead. After trading points for a bit, the Good Gals ran off five straight with Evans at the line to go up 14-9 and force a Kansas timeout. The Jayhawks cut the lead to 14-11, clawed within two at 16-14, and nearly tied it after a Purdue timeout at 19-18, but a Cuttino kill and a Kelsie Payne attack error forced Kansas coach Ray Bechard to use his remaining timeout; the Boilers scored the next two points anyway on a Linnea Rohrsen ace and a Jada Burse attack error. Payne put down a Havili set to get within four, and Cuttino was blocked by Payne and Tayler Soucie to make it three, but a successful Cuttino attack gave Purdue its first set point, 24-20. Payne got a Kansas sideout off Evans' serve, but Atkinson put down the set winner on Payne's serve, and Purdue was up 1-0.

Amazingly for a 50-point set, the second set featured only 1 tie and 1 lead change ... and it was Purdue who led nearly the entire set. The Boilers were quickly ahead 2-0 and 6-2; Kansas cut the lead in half with a Madison Rigdon kill and an Atkinson error, but they could do no better than trade points from 9-5 to 14-10, and a Stahl kill made it 15-10 and drew the Jayhawks' first timeout. Coaching magic worked both ways, as Kansas ran off four straight points to force a Purdue timeout at 15-14, and then the Boilers struck back with two more to make it 17-14. At 17-16, the sides traded points again until a Stahl kill put her at the line serving 19-17, a Payne error made it 20-17, and an Evans kill after Kansas' second timeout put the Boilers up 21-17. Three straight service points - Purdue error, Kansas ace, Kansas error - brought in Rohrsen to serve at 22-19; a Cuttino error made it 22-20. Once again, Danielle responded with a kill to make it 23-20; a Rigdon kill gave Kansas the serve at 23-21. A Jada Burse attack was no good, and Purdue had set point at 24-21 again ... but this time, timeout magic did not work. Havili cut the lead to two, Evans was called for a bad set to make it 24-23, and then Rigdon and Havili kills put Kansas in front for the first time in the set, 24-25. They would not waste the set point, as Havili and Soucie blocked Stahl to even the match at 1-1.

Sometimes when an underdog lets a close one slip away, it drains their energy, and they're blown off the court. (See, for example, Xavier against Kansas in the noon match Friday.) That did not happen here, even though the Jayhawks came out of the locker room and played even with the Boilers through 8-10. Cuttino got the Boilers the serve, and four straight points with Evans at the line drew a Kansas timeout at 13-10, the third straight set where Purdue forced Kansas to call timeout with 10 or fewer points. Payne stopped the Purdue run with a kill, and Cuttino's error got the Jayhawks within one, but the Good Gals were having none of it, and a four-point run with Damler on the line used Kansas' other timeout at 19-14. Once again, Kansas made a run, capped by a Rigdon kill for 19-17, but a Havili service error put Stahl at the line, and Purdue restored their five-point lead with an Adelaja kill and a Payne error. A Payne kill and a Payne/Zoe Hill block of Cuttino wrapped up Kansas' scoring at 22-19, as Adelaja, Blake Mohler, and Mohler again would pound down kills to give the Boilers a well-earned 2-1 lead.

The first half of set 4 looked like it was a prelude to another fifth set in a sweltering Holloway, but it didn't happen like the first three. After a Havili service error and a Payne kill split the first two points, Purdue scored four in a row, and Bechard had no choice but to use a timeout at 5-1. Again it worked, with a Payne/Hill block of Mohler and a Payne kill cutting the lead in half. The Boilers pushed it back to 4, the sides traded points, and then Kansas scored three straight to draw within 8-7. Patricia Montero's jump serve ended up as an error, but Mohler returned the favor, and two Boiler attack errors put the Jayhawks in front 9-10. Atkinson put down an Evans set to draw even at 10, Damler's ace put the Boilers up 11-10, and after a Hill kill tied it, Stahl put Purdue in front for good at 12-11. Kansas would draw within one at 13-12 and within two at 15-13, but Evans and Atkinson made it 17-13 and burned Kansas' final timeout; after back-to-back Evans aces, Montero would score the final point for Kansas, 19-14. Tori Miller's service error put Peters at the line, and with the Jayhawks unable to stop the train, the crowd roared as the Good Gals brought it home: Mohler kill, Payne error, Stahl kill, Burse error, and then appropriately, a Peters ace to end the set and the match.

Prior to this match, Kansas hadn't allowed an opponent to hit better than .200. Purdue outhit them .331 to .177. For all the Boilers' struggles at the line, Kansas was the one who faltered, posting a woeful -8 (4 aces/12 errors) to Purdue's 0 (7/7). The Boilers narrowly outblocked the Jayhawks, 8.5 to 8, but Purdue recorded three solo blocks to Kansas' 0.

Individually, Stahl led the Boilers with 15.5 points: 15 kills at .444, 19 digs, 2 assists, and 0.5 blocks, a line that would be solid against normal opposition, never mind against the #4 team in the country. Cuttino added 12 kills despite being held to .200; the attention on her allowed Mohler to prosper, as the redshirt freshman rang up 11 kills at .476. Evans led Purdue at the line, tying a career high with 4 aces, and Mohler was a force at the net on defense as well as offense, adding 5 assists to her solo block for 3.5 total and 14.5 points overall. Three other Boilers joined Stahl in double figures in digs: Haben (13), Evans (13) and Damler (11). 

The Jayhawks were led by OH Madison Rigdon, who managed 16 kills at .283 against the Boilers' stout defense. RS Kelsie Payne was the only other Kansas player in double figures (10 kills at .139); Purdue neutralized OH Jada Burse, holding her to 5 kills at -.074. Libero Cassie Wait had 21 digs to lead all players; Rigdon had 3 of Kansas' 4 aces, and MB Tayler Soucie had 5 block assists. Rigdon's 20.0 points was tops for the match; she's definitely a talented player, and with one year of eligibility remaining, she should be a force for Kansas next year as well.

Purdue 3, Xavier 0 (25-21, 25-21, 25-11)

Here comes a ... too late, it's down. Point, Faye Adelaja.

Saturday's match was anticlimactic: the only question was whether or not Purdue would come out at full strength after their amazing performance the night before. They did struggle a bit early, but still put the Musketeers away comfortably in both sets before the break, and despite trading the lead early in set 3, the Boilers broke open the dam late and cruised to a sweep and the inaugural Stacey Clark Classic title.

Set one looked pretty routine early on: after alternating the first five points, Purdue scored 7 unanswered, and Xavier found themselves down 9-3 and in need of a timeout. That timeout forced a Peters service error, but three more Boiler points made it 12-4, and it should have been time to sit back and relax ... but the opponent was the same one that was up 2-1 on Kansas, and the Musketeers were not done yet. At 18-11, a Kristen Massa kill put Alexis Newsome on the line, and then three straight Purdue attack errors (two blocks and a straight-up error) made Shondell call a timeout at 18-15. Lauren Frilling's kill drew Xavier within two, but Atkinson got the Boilers back up three, and after a Mohler service error, three straight Xavier attack errors gave Purdue a safe 22-17 lead, and Xavier would not pull closer than 3 the rest of the way; Evans put a Stahl set down to hand Purdue set 1, 25-21.

In set 2, the Boilers only shared the first four points and took the lead for good at 5-4 after a McKena Estes service error. From there, Purdue widened their lead by ones and twos, slowly enough to not prompt a Xavier timeout ... and in fact it was the Boilers who took one first, as Xavier's three-point run cut a Boiler lead in half at 15-12. The Musketeers could not get any closer, despite using both timeouts, and a Massa attack error gave Purdue set 2 with the same score, 25-21.

It was hot, and the Boilers were rolling, and we were hungry and had places to be. So too did the Good Gals, apparently; Xavier led 0-1 and 2-3, but then seven straight Purdue points, keyed by another pair of consecutive aces from Evans, burned a Musketeers timeout at 9-3. Abbey Bessler's kill got Xavier the serve, but a six-point run gave Purdue a double-digit lead, 15-4, and at that point it was all over but the post-match victory lap. Xavier eventually used their other timeout at 21-9, but they posed no threat, and Atkinson ended the match with a kill from Peters to give Purdue a 25-11 set win and their second sweep of the weekend.

As suggested by the score, this match was dominated by Purdue: .281 to .123 attacking, +1 to -6 from the line (Xavier did not have an ace). The Musketeers committed 24 attack errors, 19 of which were unforced, so Purdue didn't have nearly as many digs as they normally would in a three-set match. Danielle Cuttino was the only Boiler in double figures with 14 kills, hitting .407, and led Purdue with 14.0 points; Haben had a team-leading 10 digs, Evans' two aces led the Boilers, and Stahl had three solo blocks plus an assist to lead everyone with 3.5. OH Abbey Bessler led Xavier with 13 kills at .267; RS Sofia Peterson added 10 kills at .318. Libero Meredith Klare had a match-high 12 digs, with Bessler adding 11, and MB Alexis Newsome recorded 4 block assists to lead the Musketeers.

Overall thoughts

Nice try - she got that one too. 

Although Peters was named the tournament MVP, and Stahl clearly had an outstanding weekend, I thought this was Carissa Damler's best weekend in a Purdue uniform. She posted double-figure digs in consecutive matches for the first time this season, but more importantly, her positioning was solid, and she was part of a back line that made it very, very difficult to get kills around the blockers. There was a point partway through one of the sets against Kansas where I could see Shondell giving detailed instructions to one of the DS - I think it was Damler, but it may have been to Haben, or maybe given to one and intended for all. Anyway, after that, time and again Carissa was in position to keep a ball alive after a Kansas attack or block, and points that would have ended up on the wrong side of the scoreboard ended up as a key part of a huge victory.

Brooke seems to have worked through her serving difficulties: three aces (one in each match) nearly doubled her season total, and after a perfect match against SELa, she had just 3 errors against Kansas and Xavier combined. Hopefully that trend continues, because with Damler (+3) and Haben (+4) reasonably positive and Evans (+1) now just positive as well, solid serving from the DS and S groups will make a big difference moving forward. 

Hello, Blake Mohler! She's broken 10 points* four times this season, and three have been against ranked opponents (12 against Kentucky, 12 against ND, 15 against Stanford, and 14.5 against Kansas). She also leads the team in blocks with 23.5, and that should only increase if Stahl continues to be solid as a solo blocker (12; unfortunately the NCAA does not provide a leaderboard for solo blocks, so I can't tell how good that is). The season is still young, but right now, Cuttino, Mohler and Adelaja seem to be covering the missing OH position just fine.

I was a little surprised that Dorn, Rohrsen and Shavona Cuttino didn't get more time against Xavier, but I suppose with Big Tenteen play starting soon, this was more about getting more reps for the regulars so their timing would be good when it makes the most difference in the standings. Carry on, coach!

*in volleyball, individual points are kills plus aces plus blocks (1 for solo, 0.5 for assist)

Next up

There isn't much time to prepare, as the Boilers welcome Illinois to West Lafayette Wednesday night to kick off conference play. (Coincidentally, that's also likely Tamika Catchings' last game in a WNBA uniform, as the Indiana Fever host the Phoenix Mercury in an idiotic one-game first-round matchup at an even more idiotic 6 PM tipoff. (Basically, EsPN gives no (cares) about the league but insists on making decisions anyway, so instead of spacing out the series to give players time to rest up from the Olympics, they just whacked games from the opening rounds. I can't explain weeknight start times of 6 and 8, though. That's even dumber than killing off teams in cities that support women's basketball just so you can force NBA owners to pretend to run women's teams too. /end tangent))

The Illini are typically a tough opponent, but this year may be an exception. They've already dropped four matches: home to Missouri State, neutral-site to Stanford (in five), at Colorado, and at Oregon. The last three are quality opponents, and even the Bears could be decent, but without a quality win, it's tough to judge them accurately. Last season, the schools met just once because Jim Delany is an idiot, and #19 Purdue prevailed in that match at home, 3-2 over #18 Illinois.

Illinois' offense generally runs through freshman OH Jacqueline Quade, who leads the Illini with 124 kills at .265, and senior OH Michelle Strizak, who's posted 91 kills but is hitting just .174. Sophomore S Jordyn Poulter is, like Ashley Evans, the main woman for that role, with 406 of Illinois' 473 assists. The back line features junior libero/DS Brandi Donnelly, whose 166 digs is over a third of the team's total. 

Massey likes the Boilers in this one, 3-1. The match starts at 7 PM in Holloway; coverage is available on WSHY 1410 AM and on BTN if your TV provider carries it. (Not BTN+, so you really do have to have cable or satellite for this match.) You can also follow the CBSi GameTracker, which has at least a 50% chance of getting the team colors right.

Photos for all three matches by John Underwood, courtesy of Purdue Athletics

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