VB Wins Shamrock Invitational, Improves to 5-1

VB Wins Shamrock Invitational, Improves to 5-1

Sorry about the confusion last week. I hit the Notre Dame site for the start of the match against Howard, clicked on the Free Video link ... only it wasn't a link. So I followed the GameTracker, which ... 

Yeah. In the meantime, I kept refreshing the page, only to find that someone had made a mistake: it was eventually corrected, showing that the ACC equivalent of BTN+ was showing the ND matches only. No worries, as the Boilers cruised to 3-0 sweeps of both Howard and Coastal Carolina. The final match against ND happened at the same time as an Indy Eleven home match, so I figured I'd be able to watch it on WatchESPN or whatever the Bristol Clown Show calls it these days. Ha. I ended up catching maybe half the match on my phone before their sad excuse for an app decided that my stable connection was too slow and dropped me. I did, however, catch this great play from basically half the team (at the 2:33 mark if it doesn't put you there):

Massey was spot-on, as the Good Gals defeated the hosts 3-1 to win the tournament and return to their preseason #20 spot in the polls. To the recaps!

Purdue 3, Howard 0 (25-14, 25-20, 25-20)

Good news for Purdue, as redshirt senior MB Faye Adelaja was back at 100% and in her starting role, pushing Shavona Cuttino to the bench. While Dave Shondell usually switches up things in non-conference play, I think this is different; it wouldn't surprise me if Faye, Danielle and Blake are the MB starters moving forward. DS Linnea Rohrsen and S Lexi Dorn got their standard serving appearances, and the rest of the lineup was unchanged.

Howard actually got off to a decent start, running off three straight points to go up 3-1 and then matching Purdue's responses to get to 5-3 and 6-4. A Mohler kill got Purdue the serve, and then the scorebook shows a whole bunch of "Point Purdue: (Peters, Brooke)" lines. Howard burned both of their timeouts to no avail; a block of a Sherridan Atkinson attack finally stopped the run, but Atkinson got a kill on the next point, and the Boilers eventually pushed their lead up to 11 on a block by Cuttino and Adelaja. The two sides traded points until an Azariah Stahl kill ended the set at 25-14.

Howard would not concede another long Boiler run, but 4-point streaks in each of the next two sets essentially provided the final margins. Purdue posted an 80% sideout rate in set 2, scoring on each of Howard's last 7 serves and on 10 of their last 11; a four-point run with Stahl serving got Purdue from 7-8 to 11-8, and Howard trailed the rest of the way. In the finale, the Good Gals ran off four straight to start, again with Stahl serving, and a three-point run with libero Natalie Haben serving was enough to let the Boilers cruise to a sweep.

The box score accurately reflected the difference in quality: Purdue outhit Howard .361 to .147, outblocked them 6 to 2, and even outserved them (-5 to -9, with Carissa Damler getting an ace and no errors). Cuttino led the Boilers with 12 kills, but Adelaja's accuracy, sorely missed against Kentucky, was on display against the Bison, as she hit 10 for 16 in the middle - .625 is outstanding even for a position that's typically a higher-percentage, lower-opportunity spot. Stahl also hit double figures in kills and added 14 digs four a double-double; Damler also had 14 digs. 

For the Bison, OH Khalia Donaldson posted 11 kills, while OH Katherine Broussard led Howard at .294. Libero Morgan Marlbrough recorded 11 digs, and Broussard had the lone Howard ace of the match.

Purdue 3, Coastal Carolina 0 (25-19, 25-23, 25-11)

It was a slightly different story in Saturday's opener, as Purdue had a bit of trouble with the Chanticleers in sets 1 and 2, but blew their Sun Belt opponents away in set 3. Of note: Brooke Peters made her first appearance at libero as a Boiler, with Evans, Adelaja, Stahl, Damler, Mohler and Cuttino getting starts. This may be the AHA moment that I seize upon when Peters gets the jersey against Illinois, but given the quality of Haben's play so far, it's hard to tell which of these is Shondell's non-conference experiment and which is the conference starter. (If there is one!)

Damler served for Purdue to open the first set; Coastal Carolina got the first point, but after a Brooke Peters service error tied the match at 3, eight straight Boilermaker points put the set out of reach. Purdue would lead by 8 again at 12-4, 15-7, 19-11, and 22-14; a late CC run got them as close as 5 three times, but each time the Boilers responded, finally taking the set on a Stahl kill from an Evans set.

Set two was a different story, as the Chanticleers quickly went up 5-2 and led by as many as six; at 9-15, Shondell used a timeout, and a Cuttino kill from Damler started a five-point rally with Evans serving. Still, the Boilers couldn't quite catch CC, and Purdue's other timeout came with Coastal Carolina up 15-19. The Good Gals got that point as well, but continued to trade points to 18-21, and after cutting the lead to two on an Annayka Legros attack error, they traded points again until Cuttino put Evans on the line at 21-23. Ashley served out the set, and the Boilers would not be tested again that morning.

Coastal Carolina actually led the third set 2-0, forced ties at 3-3 and 4-4, and trailed by one, 6-5, after an Iva Mandic kill. An 8-1 run with Haben and Mohler serving gave Purdue all the space they'd need, and a 5-point run with Peters serving all but finished CC. A Peters service error proved to be the Chanticleers' final point; they promptly matched the error, and an attack error by Leah Hardeman ended the match.

Once again, the Boilers dominated the scoreboard, but most impressively, they had a significant advantage at the service line, posting their first positive score of the season (+1, with 8 aces and 7 errors) to CC's -4 (2 and 6). They outhit the Chanticleers .312 to .130 and outblocked them 10 to 5. Evans led the way with 3 aces and no errors; Haben added an ace and no errors. Cuttino led all players with 14 kills, hitting .367; Stahl added 11 kills at .348. Peters was the only player on either side in double figures with digs (13). Hardeman led Coastal Carolina in kills with 11, Legros hit .438 with 9 kills, and Hardeman also had a team-high 8 digs.

Purdue 3, Notre Dame 1 (25-21, 24-26, 25-16, 25-16)

The Irish still have a ways to go to be competitive in the ACC, but home court does provide advantages, so it wasn't unreasonable to expect Notre Dame to take a set, and they did squeak by in set 2. Rohrsen and Dorn both made serve appearances in this match, with Rohrsen getting a dig and an attack attempt. Shavona Cuttino did not play, and Olivia Van Zelst remains destined for a redshirt. Haben moved back to libero, and Atkinson got the start in Damler's place (think of it as starting in a different spot in the rotation; it's not like they're equivalent players, after all).

The first set was an even battle that saw the sides stay fairly close throughout, so much so that ND used its first timeout at 11-8. (It worked; a Lauren Woodard kill cut the Purdue lead to two.) Later on, a 4-0 Purdue run with Stahl at the line drew the other ND timeout, but by then, the Boilers had already established a safe lead, and the Irish would get no closer than three, at 18-15 and in a late 4-1 rally to reach 24-21. An Adelaja kill from Evans gave the Boilers set 1.

Set 2 started off fairly even, with the sides trading runs and points, and again Notre Dame used an early timeout (this time at 10-8) to prevent Purdue from pulling away. After Rohrsen served two points to give the Good Gals their largest lead of the set, 14-10, Notre Dame went on a 5-1 run to tie the set; two Boiler points were answered by four Irish points, and Shondell was forced to call a real timeout at 17-19. Sure enough, his magic stopped ND, and after Purdue forced three straight ties, an Atkinson kill put the Boilers up 22-21, and now it was Notre Dame's turn for a key timeout. The Irish scored back-to-back points to take the lead, and even though the Boilers got two more ties, they could not force set point, and an Adelaja attack error gave Purdue its only set loss of the tournament.

In set 3, Purdue responded as they did in set 3 in the morning: three Cuttino kills sparked a 7-2 Purdue run to open the set, and from there it was ... not exactly over? At 11-4, it looked like Purdue might cruise, but a Mohler service error gave ND the serve, and suddenly it was 11-8 Good Gals. The Irish got another 3-0 run to cut the lead to one, but Shondell pulled another timeout out of his hat; Cuttino and Mohler would spark a 6-0 response that did put the match away. Peters came in to serve at 21-16 and did not leave the line; kills by Stahl and Mohler gave Purdue set 3.

Set 4 would be even easier for Purdue than its predecessor: again Purdue took an early lead (7-3), again ND used an early timeout, but this time it did not help, as Purdue ran off three more points with Rohrsen serving to lead 10-3. Notre Dame never got closer than 4 after that, and 2 kills each from Adelaja and Cuttino finished the set and the match, handing the Boilers the title.

Perhaps surprisingly for a set that featured a close win and a close loss, Purdue showed another substantial advantage at the net, hitting .316 to Notre Dame's .087 and recording a crazy 17.5 blocks to 5 for the Irish. Yes, 17.5: four Boilers had 4 or more assists, with Mohler leading in blocks (1 BS, 8 BA for 5 total blocks) and Stahl getting 3 solo blocks and 2 assists. Serving, however, was not so good: a big old -9 for the Good Gals (3 aces, 12 errors) and a 0 for Notre Dame (4 and 4). Cuttino hit .425 with 22 kills, which is, in technical terms, "very good" and "a lot". Adelaja hit .391 with 13 kills, Evans .364 with 5 kills, and Mohler .600 with 6 kills; Haben tied her opposite number, libero Ryann DeJarld, with 20 digs, while Stahl added 15 and Evans recorded 11. OH Jemma Yeadon led Notre Dame with 13 kills.

Overall thoughts

Woo 3-0! OK, honestly, this was the one easy weekend on the non-conference schedule. Friday, the Boilers face Stanford in Palo Alto, and the next Friday, unbeaten #4 Kansas comes to West Lafayette. The Good Gals catch a Friday break, as the 23rd is an off day; instead, they open conference play on Wednesday the 21st against #21 Illinois.

So it was good to see Adelaja back at full strength and Purdue powering through less-talented opposition. There will be few weekends like this even in Big Tenteen play: the only week of conference play without a ranked opponent is Senior "Week", and that's only because MSU is 26th right now (the Boilers travel to East Lansing on 11/9 before playing their final home match against Iowa 11/12; finishing with six of seven on the road is crap, but then so is playing 20 matches against 13 opponents - THANKS DELANY).

It's never too early to look at overall trends, so it's good to see the Boilers in the top 30 in hitting (.282), kills per set (14.32), assists per set (13.55), and blocks per set (2.84). It is not a surprise to see them struggling at the line (1.05 aces per set, which is ... tied for 245th). It's good to see a bit of variety in the offense this year, with Danielle Cuttino (210) and Stahl (197) pretty close in total attacks. Once Atkinson and Mohler get more experience with Evans, their unforced errors should drop, and that's when we should have a better picture of the Purdue hitting game. 

Defense still seems to be something of a concern: although Stahl is an upgrade from Sam Epenesa on the back line, Mohler is about what you'd expect a 6'2" redshirt freshman to be back there, so Purdue isn't generating quite as many digs as I'd like to see. Stahl only had 2 return errors in three matches, which yes, those were not against ranked teams, but returns are returns. As she becomes more comfortable returning serve, the Boilers will get more attack opportunities, and as the match highlights show, range is not exactly a defensive problem for the 6'0" junior! 

Insert usual depth observation. Dorn has no live experience at S, Peters and Damler are the only DS with regular reps, and Stahl is not only the only OH who has experience with Evans, but also clearly an all-around player that the Boilers will need in every match this season. 

Next up

As mentioned above, it's California time for Purdue, as they travel to Palo Alto to play Stanford, Cal Poly-SLO, and ... I guess when you factor in the cost of living, two teams in California are like three teams here? Anyway, it should be an interesting weekend. Massey was impressed with the weekend results, moving Purdue up 12 spots to #20; Stanford is 13th and should win 3-1, but Cal Poly is more ... well, right now, they look more Kentucky-ish, which would mean a 3-1 Purdue win. (The Wildcats were swept by USC in Los Angeles last weekend, which isn't great, but also by Northern Iowa, which is not great, Bob. They did avoid total disaster by sweeping Creighton, who's probably better than the Panthers. idk.)

The last time the Cardinal and Boilers met, I was a senior ... in high school. Odds on an announcer mentioning that Purdue has never beaten Stanford? (I bet they don't say that Stanford hasn't beaten Purdue in 32 years.) Stanford isn't necessarily where they've been in the past, coming off a 23-7 season and second-round NCAA appearance. Stop me if that sounds kind of familiar. 

Stanford's site is unfriendly, to say the least. Once I disabled the adblocker nag screen (please, don't try to convince people that an ad-loaded site is a full experience for users, especially not when it comes from a school that has an athletic budget the size of the Pacific Ocean), I got an NBA calendar-style list of players (seriously, the only reason I go to EsPN these days is to read NBA calendars; the NBA site doesn't seem to understand that people plan things based on weekday or month). So I'll wing it. Back to the preview ...

In an ominous sign for Boiler fans, Stanford is coming off three straight wins over Big Tenteen opponents, beating Minnesota 3-1 in Palo Alto and Illinois (3-2) and Penn State (3-0) in Boulder. (Hey, they lost their season opener at home 3-2 to San Diego, so there's that.) The Cardinal are third in the country at 3.50 blocks per set, and ... well, they're OK after that, although here, strength of schedule is pretty significant. Hitting .233 against Minnesota isn't necessarily a bad thing; holding them to .142 is pretty good. On the other hand, their hitting percentage may be affected by the fact that sophomore OH Hayley Hodson led the Cardinal in kills in 2015 with 405 ... and in errors with 153. Junior MB Merete Lutz hit .388 in 678 opportunities, so they have talent both inside and out to replace departed OH Brittany Howard (.304, 336 kills). Senior Kelsey Humphreys (106 assists) and freshman Jenna Gray (92) split time at setter for now (hmmmmmm); the Cardinal like to pretend that really nobody is a libero, but freshman Morgan Hentz has the role for now, leading Stanford with 62 digs. (I note that Stanford opens its Pac-12 schedule with two weekends on the road after playing at Saint Mary's and Pacific, so I guess scheduling is kind of funny this season.)

Cal Poly is not quite as imposing, but playing three time zones away can do funny things, so the Boilers would do well not to take this opponent lightly. Their site follows the same template that so many other sites do (different is not better in sports, Stanford), so aside from the ... unfortunate domain name (gopoly.com is not a site I would have assumed was family-friendly), it's laid out in a way that yr obdt blggr can easily draw from. Like Purdue, the Mustangs have few seniors (just S Shannon Fouts and MB Taylor Gruenewald in this class), but unlike Purdue, they feature six freshmen, with four of them making significant contributions. Sophomore OH Adlee Van Winden leads a balanced attack, posting 77 kills and a subpar .180 attack percentage for the 4-2 Mustangs; fellow sophomore Alexis Clewis (73, .338) has been much more effective early in the season. Junior S Taylor Nelson is, like Ashley Evans, the one person you'll expect to see in that role Saturday (freshman S Grace Rickard has 1 assist and 1 dig in 2 matches); sophomore libero Katherine Brouker has 94 digs for Cal Poly, followed by Nelson with 52. 

The Mustangs last met the Boilers in the 2007 NCAA tournament; Cal Poly came away with a win in that match, tying the series at 2 apiece. A similar outcome seems less likely for the team coming off a 19-8 season; while a 3-1 win over Western Kentucky in St. Louis last weekend was fairly impressive, and their sweep at the hands of a talented BYU squad on the road was totally expected, their five-set loss to Arkansas State is probably a concern for Mustang fans. In women's volleyball, the Big West is basically Hawai'i (who also have the adblocker nag screen) and Not Hawai'i, so NCAA tournament bids depend on beating the Rainbow Wahine or finishing a close 2nd or 3rd and having a key non-conference win in the bag. WKU probably isn't enough, so Purdue will be their target. Fortunately for the Boilers, the 4 PM start is 7 PM Eastern, which is right in line with their recent matches; the 11 PM match on Friday against Stanford will be the tough one for the Boilers' clocks.

You might be able to watch both matches for free, thanks to Pac-12 live coverage of everything. If so, woo! Thanks Pac-12! If not, I say boo to you, kind sirs and madams. Boo indeed. UPDATE: the Stanford match Friday will not be free because I guess the Pac-12 is short about 1200 providers or so. If you're one of our four West Coast readers who also likes volleyball, I'd say 5-1 against you having access to the match. In theory, Saturday's match against Cal Poly will be free online.

Feature image from the Purdue Exponent.

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