VB Upsets #3 Minnesota, Sweeps #15 Wisconsin
With three weeks remaining in the regular season, the Good Gals faced one of their biggest tests of the season, welcoming #3 Minnesota and #15 Wisconsin to Holloway. Analytics saw it as 1-3 and 2-3 losses; given Purdue's performance in a sweep at Minnesota (solid play, not enough to take a set) and Wisconsin's strength of schedule, that seemed about right - the Boilers would need to lift their level of play to take down either opponent.
So when Purdue blew out Minnesota 25-14 to take the fourth set and the match on Friday, it was a pleasant surprise; when they dropped Wisconsin in straight sets on Saturday, suddenly the thought of hosting first- and second-round NCAA Tournament matches wasn't just a long shot. Dave Shondell's team has become a force to be reckoned with, and with four winnable matches remaining, the Good Gals could well enter the tournament with a 24-7 record, and a road win at Michigan plus a win in the home finale against Michigan State could be the last piece they need to host.
Before we get too far ahead of ourselves, let's recap the week of wonder.
#21 Purdue 3, #3 Minnesota 1 (25-23, 21-25, 28-26, 25-14)
Caitlyn Newton's play at OH has earned her what seems to be a permanent spot in the starting rotation; the only other personnel move of note was that Carissa Damler played sparingly, seeing action in just 3 sets and getting just one assist.
The Boilers seemed to know they'd need to get off to a good start to have a chance against Minnesota, and they did exactly that, taking the first point and going up 2-1 and 5-2. They traded points through 8-5 before the Gophers ran off three straight to tie the set at 8-8; Purdue took the next two points to lead 10-8, but Minnesota ran off another three points, including back-to-back Alexis Hart aces, to take their first and only lead, 10-11. The Good Gals responded with another two-point run to lead 12-11, and after trading points through 13-13, they used a three-point run capped by a Blake Mohler kill to go up 16-13. A Minnesota timeout led to a Gopher pair of points, but once again Purdue had a 2-0 answer; they'd trade points until a final 3-0 Purdue run made it 22-17 around the other Minnesota timeout. A 1-3 run cut the lead to 23-20, and after a Sherridan Atkinson kill, a Regan Pittman kill and consecutive blocks of Azariah Stahl, one by Pittman and Samantha Seliger-Swenson and one by Pittman and Taylor Morgan, the Gophers had held off three straight set points and closed to within one, 24-23, with a Purdue timeout between the blocks. As has so often been the case, it was Danielle Cuttino to the rescue, putting down an Ashley Evans set for a 25-23 Boiler win.
Minnesota came out strong in set two, getting the first point, trading points and adding one to go up 2-4 around a failed Purdue challenge, and after more trading, rattling off five straight to lead 4-10 despite a Boiler timeout. Cuttino finally stopped the run with a kill, but the Gophers added two more for their largest lead of the match, 5-12. But the Good Gals had another run in them, scoring four straight around a Minnesota challenge; the teams then traded points through 10-14. This time, it was Purdue's turn to take control, scoring six of the next seven around a Minnesota timeout to take their first lead, 16-15. Minnesota used kills from Pittman and Jasmyn Martin to lead 16-17; the Boilers took it back on an Evans kill and a Newton kill that was originally a Minnesota point, but was reversed after a challenge. At 18-17, Minnesota used yet another long run to go up 18-22 around Purdue's other timeout; the Good Gals cut the lead in half, but Pittman's kill made it 20-23, a Hart kill gave the Gophers set point, and after Cuttino made it 21-24, Seliger-Swenson put one over to give the visitors a 21-25 win. At 1-1, it looked like Minnesota might have recovered from that set one loss.
After the break, the Gophers grabbed the first point and traded through 2-3, but the Boilers had a huge run of their own, getting three straight kills for 5-3, and then after a Stahl service error, running off six more around a Minnesota timeout to lead 11-4. The teams would again trade points through 15-8, and it looked like the Boilers might cruise in set three, but the Gophers were able to settle down and slowly turn things around: two straight for 15-10, trading points through 17-11, then putting up five more around a Purdue timeout to make it 17-16. The Good Gals got back-to-back points for 19-16 and traded a pair for 20-17, but Minnesota responses with two to get the lead back to one, 20-19. After an Atkinson kill, Minnesota took advantage of back-to-back attack errors by Stahl and Atkinson to tie it at 21-21; the other Boiler timeout settled down the hosts, and Mohler made it 22-21 Good Gals. Pittman tied it at 22; Atkinson put one on the line for 23-22 that was upheld after a challenge. Martin's kill tied it at 23; Newton gave the Boilers set point #1 at 24-23. Minnesota called their other timeout and tied it on a Hart kill, then gave Purdue set point #2 on a Dalianliz Rosado service error. Hart tied it again at 25-25, then on what seemed to be a Newton kill, Minnesota challenged and won, making it 25-26 ... but Atkinson's kill tied it, Stahl made it 27-26, and Atkinson and Cuttino stuffed Hart for a wild 28-26 win, and at 2-1, it looked like the Boilers might have the upper hand.
Set four proved that to be the case. Before Minnesota could score a point, the Boilers dropped 6 on them; after back-to-back Gopher points, a 3-0 run burned Minnesota's remaining timeout (they'd called one at 4-0), and with the exception of an 0-3 run to cut a 13-5 lead to 13-8, the visitors simply weren't able to score on their serve. The Good Gals used another 5-0 run to push the lead to double digits, 21-10, and from there they were content to play out the string, using a Cuttino kill to put an emphatic 25-14 end to the upset.
The Boilers struggled from the line, getting just two aces (-6) to Minnesota's 4 (+1), and were matched in blocks, 9.0-9.0, but dominated the rest of the box score: attacking (75 kills at .317 to 52 at .234), assists (67 to 49) and digs (64 to 53). The three long sets and the successful fourth meant that four Boilers ended up with double-digit kills, all attacking near .300 or better. Atkinson led the group with 17 at .293, while Mohler led the Boilers at .500 with 14 kills; Cuttino (15 at .324) and Newton (12 at .296) rounded out the group, with Stahl (9 at .136) and Evans (8 at .400) just behind them. Evans had 58 assists, with seven other Boilers recording at least one (only Mohler and Newton failed to record an assist). Atkinson (even) and Brooke Peters (+1) had the only aces, with Peters posting a match- and career-high 24 digs, more than double the next-best total on either team. Atkinson and Cuttino each had a solo block, while Cuttino added 5 assists for a match-high 3.5 total.
As in the match in Minneapolis, freshman OPP Stephanie Samedy led the Gophers, with 14 kills at .229, but this time redshirt freshman MB Regan Pittman joined her at 14, tying Mohler for match honors at .500. Sophomore OH Alexis Hart was the other Gopher in double figures, with 12 kills at .125. Junior setter Samantha Seliger-Swenson just missed a second double-double against the Good Gals, with 46 assists and 9 digs, one short of senior libero Dalianliz Rosado's team-high 10. Hart (2/even), freshman DS Lauren Barnes (1/+1) and Rosado (1/even) had the four Minnesota aces. Pittman and freshman OH Jasmyn Martin each had a solo block, but unlike the first match, a host of Gophers joined them, with senior MB Molly Lohman leading the way at 2.5 total blocks.
#21 Purdue 3, #15 Wisconsin 0 (25-19, 25-21, 25-20)
Shondell went with the Newton lineup again; Damler had a normal box score presence in this match. No subs saw playing time.
The first set started very evenly, with Wisconsin getting the first point as the teams traded points through 3-4; they then traded three-point runs, with the Boilers going up 6-4, Wisconsin coming back to lead 6-7, and the Good Gals going back on top 9-6. Wisconsin managed back-to-back points, but a Cuttino kill put Purdue in front, and after an Evans service error, four straight Purdue points saw the Boilers up 14-10. After a Badger timeout, the visitors responded with three straight, but again a Purdue run followed a Wisconsin run, and the Boilers were back up by four, 17-13. They would trade through 20-17, then go up 22-17 on kills from Cuttino and Atkinson; Wisconsin got a Dana Rettke kill after a timeout for 22-18, but Atkinson and Cuttino again got back-to-back kills for 24-18. A Jena Otec service error held off set point #1, but Atkinson took care of #2, and it was 25-19 Boilers, with set one in the books.
Set two followed nearly the same script, only with Purdue leading 1-0; a pair of two-point runs made it 3-2, and after trading points, the Boilers got two straight to lead 7-5, only to see an 0-3 Wisconsin run put the Badgers up 7-8. A Kelli Bates service error stopped that run, but two more Wisconsin points made it 8-10 and drew a Purdue timeout. The Shondell magic showed up, with the Good Gals running off four straight, capping it with back-to-back Cuttino/Atkinson blocks of Lauryn Gillis; a Rettke kill stopped that run, but Stahl and Atkinson followed with kills to make it 14-11 Purdue. A Stahl attack error and a Madison Duello kill cut it to 14-13, and after an Atkinson kill, Rettke had a kill and an ace to tie it at 15-15. The teams then traded points and two-point runs for 19-19, but Purdue had another run in them, and after a Tiffany Clark service error and an Otec ace, Wisconsin needed a timeout; Stahl added a kill for 22-19 to cap the run. Rettke drew the visitors within two, but Stahl answered for 23-20, and after the other Wisconsin timeout, Atkinson made it 24-20. Rettke added one final kill, but Atkinson put the next point down, and the Boilers went into the locker room with a 25-21 win and a 2-0 lead in the match.
Set three was a perfect cap for the weekend: thrilling back-and-forth action followed by a strong Purdue finish. As in set two, the Boilers scored first, Wisconsin answered with two, Purdue got two of their own, then traded point and used a 4-1 run to lead 8-5. The Badgers got two of them back on another kill/ace sequence from Rettke, and after a service error, kills from Duello and Kelli Bates and a Duello ace made it 9-10 Wisconsin. The teams would trade points through 12-13, when kills from Mohler and Stahl gave Purdue the lead, 14-13, but they'd trade again through 16-15, and an 0-3 run around an unsuccessful Purdue challenge made it 16-18 Wisconsin, and the Boilers called a timeout. Again as in set two, the timeout sparked a run; this time, it was 3-0, with Wisconsin calling timeout at 19-18. They got a Bates kill to tie it at 19-19, and after a Bates service error, got a kill from Gillis to tie at 20-20, but they would not score again; an Atkinson kill and a Rettke attack error drew the other Badger timeout, and the Boilers would finish out the match, using a Stahl kill to get the final point, 25-20.
This time, Purdue led virtually everywhere: attack (49 kills at .318 to 34 at .194), assists (46-34), digs (48-37), and blocks (6.0-4.0), and even managed to draw virtually even in aces (3/-4 to 4/-5). Atkinson had another excellent outing, with match highs in kills (14) and attack percentage (.480), with Cuttino (13 at .300) and Stahl (13 at .478) joining her in double figures. Evans had 44 of the 46 assists and added 10 digs for a double-double, leading the Boilers in the latter as well. Otec (2/+1) and Julianna Reisinger (1/+1) had the Purdue aces. Atkinson had the only solo block by either team and also had a match-high 3.0 total blocks.
On the other side, freshman MB Dana Rettke had a solid stat line, posting a solid .364 with 11 kills (the only Badger in double digits), 2 aces (even), and 1.5 total blocks. Freshman setter Sydney Hilley had 31 of the 34 assists, while redshirt sophomore OH Madison Duello and sophomore libero Tiffany Clark each added an ace and a service error, and senior OH/libero Kelli Bates posted a team-high 10 digs.
This was basically a best-case weekend: the Boilers drew two tough opponents and beat both of them soundly. While their RPI is just #18, they have wins over #4, #9 (tie, as both USC and Creighton sit at #9) and #13, and they have a match remaining against #11 Michigan State in Holloway. Even the AVCA poll recognized the Boilers' weekend, moving them up six spots to #15. They moved up 8 spots in Massey to #13, which is probably a more accurate measure of their strength, and perhaps an indication that they're worthy of hosting. If they win their remaining matches - including that season finale against Massey-#9 MSU - they should get that honor.
Penn State moved to 15-1 with sweeps at Iowa and home against Maryland; Nebraska kept pace with sweeps of Maryland and Rutgers. (The two played only once this season, in the season opener at Penn State that Nebraska won 3-0. Thanks Delany!) Minnesota swept Indiana but fell two games back, while Michigan State swept Illinois and Northwestern to stay three back of the leaders. The two wins kept the Good Gals a game back of the Spartans, passing Illinois, who lost 0-3 at MSU and 2-3 at Michigan. Wisconsin rounded out the group with a sweep at Indiana, as they remained at .500 and closed to within a game of the Illini.
Rutgers did not win a set at Ohio State and remained winless, with Indiana one game ahead of them. Northwestern held on to beat Michigan 3-2 in Ann Arbor for their fourth conference win, one back of Maryland. Iowa beat OSU 3-1 to pull within one of the Buckeyes, who are 7-9 and tied with Michigan.
As I type this, Purdue is already up 2-0 on Rutgers; anything less than a sweep would be disappointing. The more important match of the week is the Saturday trip to Ann Arbor: Michigan's struggled a bit recently, losing at home to Northwestern and at Illinois, but like the other middle-of-the-pack teams, they can't be overlooked, especially not at home. Win that one, and the Boilers are set up well to win out.