VB Swept By Penn State, Stops Slide By Sweeping Rutgers

VB Swept By Penn State, Stops Slide By Sweeping Rutgers

Sometimes, everything goes exactly as you'd expect. Prior to the season, I would have been totally unsurprised by these results, and while there was a point where it looked like PSU might actually be vulnerable, Russ Rose has got things straightened out as usual, so Friday's sweep was right in line with current team strength. By the same token, there's such a gap between Rutgers and the heart of the conference that CJ Werneke will need at least a couple more years to make progress. (So far, it looks like Rutgers will give him that time, which is good - Rutgers basically got promoted from a I-AA-caliber situation and needs at least one four-year period to get Big Tenteen-level starters throughout their lineup.)

Once again, it was unseasonably warm in Holloway. It's pretty sad when you have to have the doors open and fans running halfway through October. 

Purdue 0, Penn State 3 (18-25, 17-25, 17-25)

A very important attribute for front-row players is the ability to duck.

In answer to last week's question, Natalie Haben apparently suffered some kind of upper-leg strain; it's healed enough that she played in both matches, but not enough for her to take over at libero, so Brooke Peters wore that jersey again tonight, and Linnea Rohrsen went back to occasional serves. Shavona Cuttino made an appearance for one point; Lexi Dorn did not play.

Each of the three sets on Friday went pretty much the same way: the two sides would be roughly even, then Penn State would drop it into gear and the Boilers would be left behind. In the first set, Purdue actually jumped out to leads of 4-2 and 5-3 before the Lions scored five straight to take a lead they wouldn't relinquish. The Good Gals would close it to 8-9, but PSU scored 5 of the next 6, forcing a timeout right before the media timeout would have occurred, and Purdue never threatened again, with an Ali Frantti kill providing the clinching point at 25-18.

Set two took a bit longer to resolve itself: again Purdue led early, at 2-0, 3-1, and 4-2, but this time, the teams would trade runs often (Purdue's sideout percentage was 29%, PSU's was 44%). PSU ran off 4 to lead 4-6; Purdue responded with 3 to lead 7-6. PSU scored 6 straight to lead 7-12; Purdue scored 4 to make it 11-12. The Lions got another five-point run for 11-17; Purdue got four more to make it 15-17, and for the first time in the match, Rose was forced to call a timeout. PSU had two more runs in them, and at 15-20, the Boilers found they had none. A final four-point run gave Penn State set points at 16-24; the Boilers would win that point, but a Simone Lee kill gave the visitors a 17-25 win and an 0-2 lead heading into the break.

For the third straight set, Purdue would score first and lead after a few points, although this time, the best they could do was 4-3. They were tied at 4-4, 5-5, and 6-6, but the Lions were just too much: runs of 3, 4, and 4 had them up 10-18, and they'd push the lead to 11-20 before the Boilers managed to alternate points and then stave off two straight match points at 15-24 and 16-24. Finally, a Heidi Thelen kill gave Penn State 25, and the over-capacity crowd of 2,415 got to head home early.

Friday in a nutshell - no matter what Purdue did, Penn State always had someone there.

The Lions looked every bit like a team undefeated in conference play, as they got the better of the Boilers in virtually every statistical category: attack percentage (.322 to .137), kills (41 to 34), assists (38 to 32), aces (4 to 3), ace difference (+1 to -4), and digs (32 to 29). Blocks were even at 4 - woo! 

OH Simone Lee was the class of the Penn State attack, racking up 15 kills while hitting .375; S Abby Detering added 5 kills at .400 (by the way, if you've never seen a setter kill as an S rather than an OH, you should watch Detering, very impressive), and MB Haleigh Washington added 8 kills at .583. Detering also had a match-high 29 kills and had one of the Lions' 4 aces. Libero Kendall White was the only player in double figures with digs (11), while Detering added 7. MB Tori Gorrell paced the Lions with 1.5 blocks.

The Boilers had a rough night on the stat sheet, as you might expect, with only three players above .000 (although oddly they had three players at exactly .000: Sherridan Atkinson, Ashley Evans and Blake Mohler). Danielle Cuttino has 11 kills at .261, while the Lions limited Faye Adelaja to .211 and 8 kills and held Azariah Stahl to .120 and 9 kills. Evans had 27 of Purdue's 32 assists, Haben had a match-high 2 aces, Peters led the Boilers with 8 digs (Stahl and Carissa Damler added 6 each), and Mohler led all players with 2 total blocks.

Purdue 3, Rutgers 0 (25-14, 25-18, 26-24)

The best item on Rutgers' resume so far is that they took 2 sets from #148 Seton Hall at home. They did steal one from Indiana Friday, and they gave the Boilers a scare Saturday in set three, but nothing more than that. I told the folks at the concession stand that I'd be disappointed if Rutgers topped 50 points total - I was, indeed, disappointed with that set.

Only one change from Friday night's lineup: Shavona Cuttino played the entire third set in place of Mohler. Everything else was the same, with Peters at libero, Haben at DS, and Rohrsen serving for Mohler or Shavona Cuttino.

Lots of this Saturday - returning serves that seemed more challenging than they should have.

Set one played out pretty much like set one from Friday, although Rutgers didn't end up taking any leads. The Scarlet Knights were tied as late as 6-6, but then Purdue slowly pulled away, leading 14-9, 15-11 at the media timeout, and then running off four more points to lead 19-11, causing Rutgers to use both its timeouts. The second timeout did break the string, but Purdue answered with four more to push their lead into double digits, 23-12, and the sides would trade points the rest of the way, with a service error on set point #2 giving Purdue a 1-0 lead, 25-14.

Set two was where problems began to surface: the Boilers once again had issues playing against weaker competition, and Rutgers took advantage, scoring the first two points and leading by as much as 1-4 ... which doesn't sound like that much, except that at the media timeout, that was the biggest lead either side had taken. The Knights led 13-14, but the Boilers scored two before the media timeout and two after, so Werneke wisely used his first timeout at 17-14, and sure enough, Rutgers got the next point. However, the damage had been done, and the Good Gals pushed their lead up to 19-15, traded points until 22-18, and after Rutgers' second timeout, two Cole Trimble attack errors and a Danielle Cuttino kill gave the Boilers set two at a misleading 25-18.


Set three was much more of a fight than it ought to have been. There were only two lead changes, with one of them coming as the Knights answered a 1-0 Purdue lead by going up 1-3; they would end up scoring 8 of 9 points to lead 2-8 as Shondell took a surprisingly long time to call his first timeout. The Boilers seemed to shake off that lackluster start, closing the gap with a 5-0 run around a Rutgers timeout, but at 7-8, the Knights responded, and they would keep Purdue at bay repeatedly until an ace by Peters finally tied the set at 13. Still, Purdue couldn't find the lead, and after a 14-14 tie, the Boilers found themselves trailing until a Stahl ace knotted the score at 19. Once again, Rutgers broke the tie, and at 20-22, it looked like the Good Gals would be only the second Big Tenteen team to lose a set to the Scarlet Knights. (Indiana was the first, on Friday.) Danielle Cuttino had other ideas, and she surrounded an Atkinson kill with two of her own to give the Boilers their first lead since 1-0, at 23-22, and Rutgers had to use their final timeout. Meme Fletcher scored off a Shavona Cuttino block after the timeout, and at 23-23, the Boilers weren't out of danger yet. A Fletcher attack error gave Purdue match point, but a Stahl attack error made everyone sit down; Stahl got us all back up with a kill for 25-24, and she and Adelaja stuffed Tiaja McKnight for match point. 26-24 doesn't look great on the stat sheet, but it's still a W, and sometimes getting a 3-0 win is more important than how you got it.

Just as Penn State dominated on Friday night, Purdue dominated on Saturday: attack percentage (.337 to .141), kills (45 to 32), assists (43 to 30), and digs (31 to 24). Surprisingly, Rutgers matched the Boilers with 5 aces (although the Good Gals were a solid +2 while Rutgers was even), and even more surprisingly, they outblocked the Boilers 6 to 4, but a good bit of that was due to Purdue having its leading blocker on the bench to give Shavona Cuttino some badly-needed playing time. 

Danielle Cuttino led three Boilers in double figures with 16 kills at .400; Stahl added 10 at .250, and Atkinson had 10 at .667, with Adelaja chipping in 7 at .875. Evans had 39 assists, 9 more than Rutgers had as a team. Peters was one of three players with 2 aces and was also the only player on either side with double-digit digs (11), as Damler and Evans added 6 each. Mohler managed a team-high 1.5 blocks in just 2 sets.

For Rutgers, kill honors were shared by RS Cole Trimble (7 kills at .250) and OH Meme Fletcher (7 at .000), with MB Jasmine Stackhouse (4 kills) and OH Micaela Anderson (3 kills) both hitting a team-high .286. Setters Talia Holze (18) and Megan Sharkey (8) split the bulk of Rutgers' assists, and Holze and libero Karysa Swackenberg matched Peters with 2 aces each. Swackenberg (7) and Fletcher (5) topped the dig leaderboard for the visitors, and MB Tiaja McKnight had a match-high 2 total blocks.

Overall thoughts

Surprisingly, Shondell seemed reluctant to use timeouts throughout the weekend. It almost seemed like Purdue's ability to get off to a good start against Penn State made it seem like they had more of a chance to withstand the storm that inevitably came. It's always easy to make decisions from the stands, but my general feeling is that when you're the underdog and you're keeping a great team close, you can't afford to wait until the standard 5-point deficit to call a timeout, because those teams will be more than happy to trade points or even give you 2 for 1 the rest of the way, knowing you can't catch up. The other odd thing was the horrible set 3 start against Rutgers, where even the down official basically stared at Shondell at 2-7, almost as if she couldn't believe he wouldn't call a timeout. There's something to be said for letting a young team play through a rough stretch, but you don't want to give a struggling opponent hope by letting things get too bad, and for a while on Saturday, it looked like that was going to be the case.

Trivia note: Russ Rose is in his 38th season at Penn State, with a career record of 1189-196 coming into this season. Yes, folks, not only is Rose the only NCAA coach PSU has ever had, he coached far enough back into the AIAW era that he has been coaching there since I was in middle school. Yep, if I had gone to either of the two Purdue-PSU matches that were played during my Purdue years, Rose would have been on the sideline then, too. (Put another way, Penn State is now 53-6 against Purdue all-time. Rose is now 53-6 against Purdue all-time.) 

While the Saturday crowd was announced as another sellout-plus (2,326), many chairbacks honored Homecoming by dressing up as empty seats, perhaps to represent a time when the Boilers struggled to get fans in the building. It's somewhat understandable, given the awful football, the warm weather, and the 8:30 PM start, but combined with the passive-as-usual sections of the crowd near us, it wouldn't have been surprising to see the Boilers struggle in a set or two. I have gradually begun to make noise allies around us, although it depends on the game because there are not a lot of season-ticket holders by us. Friday, we had enough younger people that we were actually doing a decent job accompanying the Block Party; on Saturday, it was my volleyball buddy and me, plus one of the people in front of us, and that was about it. If you just want to sit and watch the game quietly, could you maybe stay home and watch BTN and give your tickets to someone who'll help us out? 

Speaking of BTN, apparently they're using some kind of crappy new site to post highlights on, so not only can you not link to a specific part of the highlights to show a play, I don't even know if you can embed the highlights, period. Trust BTN to screw up something like this. I wouldn't be surprised if this is another genius Delany idea. "Hey, let's start our own YouTube site! It'll be great! Everyone will use it!"

There was a great, long rally on Friday between Purdue and Penn State that included a couple of great digs by Damler, but because BTN sucks and Delany sucks, I can't find highlights anywhere and I can't watch the replay because that's BTN only even though even the NFL lets you replay games without having the main, high-priced TV-only package. Maybe some kind person will post it somewhere so I can show it to you, although chances are I'll be writing about something else this week instead.

Next up

The Boilers enjoy their somewhat-annual trip next door, heading to Evanston to face the Wildcats Friday and to Champaign for a Saturday rematch with Illinois. Friday's match won't be on TV because Delany sucks (UPDATE: you can watch it on Northwestern's site, but only if you subscribe to NU sports, so Delany still sucks), but you can watch Saturday's match on BTN+, and WSHY 1410 AM will carry both games as usual. Start times for both matches are 8:00 PM EDT.

Like Rutgers, the Wildcats are off to a rough start in conference play, managing just one set (yes, also against Indiana) in eight matches. Northwestern returns 12 players from a squad that went 14-17 overall and 6-14 in the conference last season. Shane Davis is in his first year as NU head coach, replacing Keylor Chan, who spent 16 seasons in charge in Evanston. Davis' squad will focus its offense on junior OH Symone Abbott, who leads the Wildcats with 282 kills at .195. Senior MB Maddie Slater is the team's most accurate hitter at .310 on 248 attacks. Junior S Taylor Tashima is the main setter, with 590 of 771 assists, and she and Abbott lead the 'Cats in aces with 15 and 17 respectively. Northwestern has used a variety of players at libero - two true freshmen, Sarah Johnson and Emily Ehman, are listed at the position, as is redshirt freshman Kaitlin Tavarez and redshirt sophomore Katie Kniep, but senior OH Rafae Strobos has had the spot for the last four matches - so while Kniep has the team lead in digs with 159, it's Tashima right behind her with 147. Slater leads NU with 11 solo blocks and 41 total.

You may recall the Illini from the 2-3 victory they recorded in Holloway back in September. Since then, they've played to form, dropping a straight-set match at home to Nebraska and a four-set match at Wisconsin, but winning the rest of their conference matches, including a 3-0 sweep of Michigan State Wednesday. Notably, Naya Crittenden, who hammered out 15 kills at .357 against the Boilers, got 12 at .450 in just three sets against MSU, while Ali Bastianelli added 11 at .529. No Illinois player recorded an ace in that match, and the Illini were -10 from the line, so that might be something to watch on Saturday. Otherwise, the suspects remain the same: Jacqueline Quade (211 at .243) and Michelle Strizak (180 at .202) in kills, Bastianelli (.353) for accuracy, Jordyn Poulter (726 assists) setting, Strizak (12 aces) at the line, Brandi Donnelly (309 digs) in the back row, and Bastianelli (10 solo/68.5 total) blocking.

Faye Adelaja is still maintaining a solid pace on the attack, hitting .409 with 134 kills, while Danielle Cuttino continues to lead the team by a mile in kills with 280 at .286; Azariah Stahl joins her above the 200 mark with 212 at .176, and Blake Mohler joins Adelaja above .300 at .304 with 108 kills. Ashley Evans is on pace to smash the 1000-assist mark again this season, with 769 through 19 matches (she had 1338 in 33 matches last year). Evans' newly-unleashed jump serve has her at 20 aces (-2) so far, with Natalie Haben not far behind at 16 and Stahl (15) and Brooke Peters (13) close behind her. Five Boilers have hit triple figures in digs: Haben (199), Peters (157), Evans (153), Stahl (152) and Carissa Damler (131). Stahl (17) and Cuttino (10) both have double-digit solo blocks, but Mohler (41) still leads the total-block board by a mile.

Massey predicts another split, with #21 Purdue topping #111 Northwestern 3-1 and losing to #24 Illinois 2-3. Even at #21, Purdue has 7 Big Tenteen teams ahead of them: #1 Nebraska, #2 Wisconsin, #4 Minnesota, #10 Penn State, #11 Michigan State, #12 Michigan, and #19 Ohio State, with the Illini making it 9 teams in Massey's top 25. The AVCA poll is similarly impressed - from the new poll on 10/17 (bad zlionsfan! bad!), Nebraska is #1, Minnesota and Wisconsin are 3rd and 4th, Penn State 9th (with a #1 vote!), Michigan State 11th, Michigan tied for 16th, Ohio State 19th, Illinois 22nd, and the Good Gals 24th. The drop I thought was this week was actually last week, for losing at Iowa; this week, a two-spot drop may have been reasonable, given the rest of the weekend's action.

Photos courtesy of Purdue Sports, by Rebecca Wilcox and John Underwood

Handsome Hour #99: Hazell Out & Potential Purdue Football Coaching Candidates

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