VB Topples Illinois In Five For Weekend Split

VB Topples Illinois In Five For Weekend Split

(Editor's note: apologies for the delay on this. Even I'm not old enough to remember the last time the Cubs won an NL pennant.)

Young team, tough road trip. It wasn't at all surprising that Purdue volleyball completed their last road trip in October by splitting a pair of matches; what was surprising was that the loss came Friday in Evanston, not Saturday in Champaign. The Wildcats picked up their first conference win of the season - in fact, only the second match in which they'd taken a set - with a decisive 1-3 win that did no favors for Purdue's NCAA hopes. Fortunately, the Boilers quickly recovered, avenging a 2-3 loss in Holloway by returning the favor for the Illini. 

The Northwestern loss took its toll, dropping the Boilers to 27th in the AVCA poll; while Massey still has them in the top 25 (barely, at 24), that's more a reflection of Purdue's overall record and less a measure of the impact of the loss to the #98 Wildcats. With an 18 RPI, the Boilers are probably safe for now, but they'll have to turn things around quickly, as they're wrapping up the last reasonable bit of their schedule. November means road matches: 6 of the last 8 are away from Holloway, and even though 2 of those are eminently winnable (at Indiana, at Penn State), well, so was Friday's match. Massey sez 6-4 the rest of the way, which would put them at 9-11 in conference play and 19-12 overall ... that's danger territory unless the committee really, really appreciates strength of schedule.

Purdue 1, Northwestern 3 (19-25, 25-18, 19-25, 26-28)

Lineup started off the same as last week, with Brooke Peters at libero and Natalie Haben at DS. Haben and Peters switched for set 2 and remained in those spots throughout the weekend; Linnea Rohrsen came in to serve in three of the four sets.

Set one started off like it was supposed to, with Purdue scoring first and ending up in front 3-1 after a Peters ace charged against the Wildcats (rather than one player). From that point on, it really wasn't Purdue's night. NU tied it at 3-3 and 4-4, then opened up a 5-7 lead with Maddie Slater serving, and after an Azariah Stahl kill, the Cats scored 5 of the next 6 to lead 7-12, and Purdue had to burn a timeout. The Boilers stayed close, getting a 5-of-6 run themselves to get within 12-13, and it was the hosts' turn to call timeout, but NU promptly put the set away with an 0-7 run around Purdue's other timeout, and from that point on, it was just a matter of when. When came on a Taylor Tashima kill at 19-24, and the struggling Cats had an early 0-1 lead.

Set two looked to be uncomfortably similar to set one, as again the Boilers ran out to a 3-1 lead, and again Northwestern tied it at 4-4 and 5-5. This time, Purdue responded earlier - in fact, they never relinquished their lead. A Symone Abbott service error, a solo block by Faye Adelaja of Slater and a Blake Mohler ace gave Purdue an 8-5 lead; the Boilers would later push it to 11-7 with Stahl serving, forcing an NU timeout, and 12-7 after the timeout. Northwestern didn't lose much ground, but they didn't gain much either, never getting closer than 3, and the last time they did, at 21-18, the Boilers ran off four straight points to end the set. Going into the break, 1-1 didn't seem too bad given the circumstances, and there was hope that the Good Gals would come out of the locker room, take the next two sets, and head to Illinois on a roll. Well, someone took the next two ...

... and it wasn't Purdue. Once again, the Boilers scored first, but they quickly fell behind 1-2, then 2-4 and 4-7 before getting a Sherridan Atkinson kill and two blocks of Sofia Lavin (one by Atkinson, one by Adelaja and Atkinson) to tie it at 7-7. Unfortunately, like in the opener, Northwestern wouldn't give up the lead: a three-point run to make it 7-10 created the initial separation, and than four more after an Atkinson kill put the Boilers down 8-14, and that was pretty much it. At 15-21, Purdue did manage two more points, but a Northwestern timeout killed that momentum, and the Wildcats basically traded points the rest of the way, with a Slater kill putting NU up 1-2 in the match.

Set four was definitely interesting to follow, as long as you weren't vested in the outcome. As in the first three sets, Purdue scored first, but this time, they ran off four straight: three on kills by Danielle Cuttino and one on a Haben ace. After the ensuing timeout, the Cats cut back into the lead: 4-1, 5-2, 6-4, 7-6, and finally, after the Boilers had pushed it back to 9-6, a five-point run put NU in front and drew a Purdue timeout at 9-11. The Boilers would close to 13-14, but a four-point run made it 13-18, and Dave Shondell had no choice but to burn his last timeout. Even so, it looked like the Good Gals were done for; after a Cuttino kill, two attack errors (well, one was a dig by Haben that flew out of play) made it 14-20; a Stahl kill followed by a Symone Abbott kill and a bad Ashley Evans set had NU up 15-22, and with no timeouts left, Shondell had to hope the Boilers could turn it around themselves.

That they did. Atkinson kill for 16-22. Peters ace for 17-22. An Adelaja attack error gave NU the serve, but then it was Cuttino again for 18-23, and then two successive Sofia Lavin errors cut the lead to 3, and this time it was Northwestern burning their last timeout. Lavin put down a kill to put Rafae Strobos on the line to serve match point, but the Boilers fought off four straight: Cuttino kill for 21-24, again Cuttino for 22-24, a Mohler solo block on Tashima for 23-24, and another Lavin attack error to knot it at 24. Yet another gave the Boilers set point, 25-24, and suddenly the prospect of a fifth set loomed ... but Lavin and Gabrielle Hazen each put down a kill, and match point #5 was 25-26. It was Mohler again to the rescue, blocking Abbott for 26-all, but an Evans service error handed NU try #6, and Abbott made it count, putting away the set 26-28 and the match 1-3.

You wouldn't have been able to tell from the box score that one team was struggling and one was ranked; once again, the Boilers seemed to play to the level of their competition. Northwestern outhit Purdue .185 to .167, had 8 aces to 6 and was -5 to -6, and outblocked Purdue 10-8. Purdue did manage more digs, 59-45, but that was small consolation. 

Individually, the Wildcats were led by OH Symore Abbott, whose 18 kills at .255 were double that of OH Sofia Lavin (9 at .107), the next-highest Wildcat in that category. MB Maddie Slater paced the team at .312, with 7 kills on 16 attacks. S Taylor Tashima recorded 41 assists and was outstanding at the service line, with a match-high 5 aces and no service errors. (That meant the rest of the team was -10!) Libero Sarah Johnson led NU with 14 digs; MB Gabrielle Hazen had 3 solo block and 3.5 total, both team highs.

For the Boilers, MB Danielle Cuttino had an outstanding match, leading all players with 23 kills at .367, with just 5 errors in 49 attacks. OH Sherridan Atkinson was also in double figures with 12 at .350; notably absent from that group were MBs Faye Adelaja (6 at .067) and Blake Mohler (2 at .000), both of whom were nicely contained by Northwestern's front line. S Ashley Evans led everyone with 46 assists, while L/DS Brooke Peters led the Boilers with 3 aces and +1 serving. L/DS Natalie Haben paced the team with a match-high 16 digs, followed by OH Azariah Stahl (13) and DS Carissa Damler (10). Mohler once again led Purdue with 3 solo blocks and 4 total.

Purdue 3, Illinois 2 (14-25, 25-22, 19-25, 25-16, 15-11)

With the Boilers out of town and the Cubs on TV, my friend and I decided to head to a BWW and do some sports watching. We caught the end of the Nebraska-Purdue game, sat through a bit of the OSU-PSU game (not that anyone cared, other than one slightly outspoken OSU group that insisted on having their game on a big TV and then left about halfway through), and then saw history made ... but all the while, I had my phone on the table with a battery pack connected as we kept looking down at good old BTN+ and the Purdue-Illinois match. AsyouknowBob, pretty much everything that day turned out pretty well.

As mentioned above, the one lineup change saw Haben resume her libero position, with Peters back at full-time DS. Everyone else stayed the same: no Shavona Cuttino, no Lexi Dorn, and Rohrsen appeared in only one set.

Oh, that set. The first set. The one where Purdue played poorly and Illinois played like a top-10 team. It started off very slowly, as Illinois got the initial point, but Shondell immediately challenged the call, and after a long break, the ruling on the court stood. I haven't seen enough reviews to know if they announce it like in football - reversed, stands, confirmed - or if this meant it was confirmed. (As a reminder, while the Big Tenteen and Big 12 used it last season, it's available in all matches this year, if schools/conferences choose to implement it. The NCAA has a nice breakdown on it here. They also note that the pursuit rule was removed for this season: for those of you not familiar with it, this was originally allowed starting in the 2010 season - the ability to go under the net or net cable onto the opponent's "free zone" (out of bounds on their side) to save a ball, as long as it came back outside the antenna to a teammate and then inside the antennas as usual across the net.)

ANYWAY. The call stood, Illinois got two more points, and it didn't look good ... but Purdue answered with 3 to tie it 3-3 ... but Illinois got three to make it 3-6, and from there on out, it was all Illini. The hosts gradually increased their lead to 6-11 and then 7-13, drawing the Boilers' first timeout, and after a mini-rally to get the Good Gals back to 10-14, an exchange of points led to a four-point Illini run, Purdue's second timeout, and an 11-19 deficit that the visitors would not be able to overcome. The Boilers got two more on their own, then gave Illinois three on an Evans service error and two Atkinson attack errors; Michelle Strizak served an ace for 13-23, but followed it with a service error for 14-23. With Rohrsen serving, Jacqueline Quade's kill put the hosts on set point, and an Allison Palmer ace made it 14-25 Illini, with set one going to the home team.

For quite some time, set two looked like more of the same, even though Purdue got the opening point for the fifth time in six sets. They also led 2-1 and 3-2, as the teams alternated the first six points, but Illinois turned that into a 1-5 run to go up 4-7 and then 5-9. Neither side managed to change the lead much, and at 12-16, it looked like Illinois would hold on to go up 0-2, but Ali Bastianelli gave Purdue a point on a service error, and the rally began: 14-16, 16-17, and finally 19-19 on a Cuttino kill. Illinois' first timeout couldn't stop the Boilers, as a Cuttino solo block of Naya Crittenden made it 20-19 Good Gals. A Strizak kill tied it at 20, but Cuttino and Atkinson answered with kills of their own, and Illinois used their second timeout at 22-20. A Bastianelli kill cut the lead in half, but a Strizak service error restored the two-point lead. Strizak then added another kill to make it 23-22, but Stahl got the Boilers a set point, and Adelaja and Atkinson would cash it in, blocking Quade to give Purdue a 25-22 win and even the match at 1.

Set three had a match-high 11 ties, but once again, with only two lead changes, it looked like Purdue's best would be only good enough to match Illinois. Even so, it did take some good play to keep it so close for so long in the set. The Illini started off with quick leads of 1-4 and 2-5, but the Boilers got three of their own, and that started a long sequence of ties, from 5-5 through 11-11; a Mohler kill got Purdue the lead, 12-11, but Illinois took it back on two Quade kills. The Boilers tied it again on a Bastianelli service error, but two more quick points prompted Shondell to use a timeout at 13-15, and for a moment it worked: Atkinson got one point back and another Peters ace evened it at 15-15. Unfortunately, that was all they had - a five-point run around Purdue's last timeout put the set out of reach, and the sides would alternate points until two Stahl attack errors (one on a Jordyn Poulter/Bastianelli block and one unforced) got Illinois set three, 19-25, and once again, it looked like the Good Gals would finish a road trip 0-2.

Indeed, set four started with an Illinois point, and once again, the Illini slowly built a lead while Purdue desperately tried to keep them within reach ... but this time, it was the Boilers who played better. The hosts couldn't get more than three points ahead, and a 4-1 Purdue run tied the set at 9-9. After 10-10, Bastianelli got a kill through a Cuttino block and paired with Quade to block Cuttino, but the Boilers used two kills and three Illinois errors to take a 15-12 lead around an Illini timeout. Bastianelli stopped the run with a kill, but Poulter was whistled for a ball-handling error; Katie Stadick got Illinois back within two, 16-14, but a 6-0 run burned the hosts' final timeout and put the set safely away, as the Boilers got the lead to nine and then traded points to take set four, 25-16, and force a deciding fifth set.

It sure seemed like Purdue had all the momentum at this point, and as it turned out, they did, scoring the first point and never falling behind in the final stanza. Illinois stayed close early, tying at 1-1, 3-3, 4-4, and 5-5, but Purdue got two Atkinson kills around a Mohler ace to draw an Illinois timeout at the turn, and a Stahl kill made it 9-5 Good Gals. The Illini did put together three straight to draw within one, at 10-9, but Purdue responded with two after a timeout to burn the Illini's remaining one, and then another Cuttino kill restored their 4-point lead, 13-9, and that's how it would finish, as they traded points the rest of the way. Illinois held off match point #1 with a Strizak kill, but Mohler pounded home an Evans set to give the visiting Boilers the set, 15-11, and the match, 3-2.

The discrepancy in points in sets 1 and 3 tilted the boxscore in favor of Illinois: they outhit Purdue .221 to .181 and outblocked them 12 to 11, but Purdue had more digs (70-52) and had a solid edge at the service line, 5 aces (-4) to 4 (-10). The Boilers again struggled to get their attacks in, with 17 unforced errors to just 10 for Illinois.

Once again, it was Danielle Cuttino leading the Boilers in kills with 16, but Illinois focused on her and Purdue's outside hitters, holding Cuttino to .145, Sherridan Atkinson (9 kills) to .154, and Azariah Stahl (6 kills) to -.111. That freed up Purdue's other middles, and boy did they make the Illini pay. Faye Adelaja led the Boilers at .429 on 21 attacks (12 kills), and Blake Mohler added 9 kills at .357. Brooke Peters once again led Purdue in serving with 2 aces, and she and Mohler were both +1 from the line. Stahl, surprisingly, had a match-high 21 digs, with Ashley Evans (who also had 4 kills at .364) and Natalie Haben adding 12 each; Peters also had 10. Cuttino recorded the only solo block of the match, while Adelaja led Purdue with 3.5 total blocks.

Katie Stadick led all attackers at .500, with 12 kills on 20 attacks, pushing her season number to a team-high .341. OPP Naya Crittenden matched her with 12 kills, but only at .219, while OH Michelle Strizak added 10 at .162. S Jordyn Poulter had 2 aces (-1) and added 3 total blocks, while Strizak and libero Brandi Donnelly led the Illini with 19 and 15 digs respectively. MB Ali Bastianelli had a match-high 4 total blocks.

Overall thoughts

Purdue may need one or two more quality wins, because that Northwestern loss is going to look really bad. It was actually the Wildcats' first home win of the season: they played all 12 non-conference matches away from home. With Iowa looking significantly better (the Hawkeyes swept Indiana and Maryland and took Minnesota to a fifth set), NU has maybe two wins left on their schedule, and a loss to a 20-loss team is not something that helps bubble teams make the tournament. 

Still, it was good to see the Boilers turn around and win on the road the very next night. That would have been an understandable loss - perhaps not as much as the Nebraska loss, but still, playing a top-25 team on their home floor is a challenge, regardless of who it is, and it was good to see a young team rise to the occasion again.

Purdue's numbers are slowly sliding toward the bottom half of the conference in pretty much all non-counting categories (those are actually boosted by the number of four- and five-set matches the Boilers have played recently), and that's probably a fair representation of their conference performance to date. While Purdue does have talented players who are posting good numbers - Evans is 34th nationally with 10.76 assists per set, Adelaja is 23rd hitting .392, and Cuttino is 49th in kills per set with 3.99 - they don't yet have the depth or experience to support their best players on the scoreboard. Players like Stahl and Damler aren't less important just because they don't show up in the boxscore as often, but ultimately, a better team is going to end up with better numbers. Hopefully we can see more of that in the home stretch ... or perhaps it's more accurate to say the road stretch.

Up next

Ranked teams from the Wolverine State come a-calling, with #13 Michigan coming to town Friday and #15 Michigan State arriving Saturday. The Wolverines hardly resemble the 13-17 team from 2014, with a 3-2 upset of Penn State in Ann Arbor lifting UM's record to 18-4; MSU has played some impressive volleyball as well this season, dropping Minnesota in five sets in East Lansing and pushing Nebraska to five sets as well. Massey thinks even more of each team, with Michigan at #11 and Michigan State at #13.

The Wolverines are led by senior MB/OPP Abby Cole, who's in a Cuttino-like role this season, leading UM with 246 kills and a .337 attack percentage. Cole also has a team-high 21 solo blocks and 50.5 total blocks. Sophomore DS/L Jenna Lerg has 358 digs, nearly 200 ahead of the next-closest Michigan player, true freshman S MacKenzi Welsh (184). Welsh has provided solid performance at a spot with perhaps the least experience on the squad (sophomore Maddy Abbott and true freshman Katerina Rocafort have played sparingly), with 838 of Michigan's 1062 assists. Redshirt senior Kelly Murphy is easily Michigan's best server, leading the team with 19 aces for a solid +12 at the line.

Redshirt junior OH Autumn Bailey leads a balanced Michigan State attack with 225 kills at .230; senior OH Chloe Reinig is the other high-volume attacker, with 178 kills at .215, while junior MB Alyssa Garvelink provides quality finishing, adding 175 kills at a solid .383. Junior S Rachel Minarick has 716 of MSU's 909 assists, plus 26 aces and a team-high +7, just one ace behind redshirt junior OH/MB Brooke Kranda's 27 (even), and tied with junior OH Holly Toliver's 26 (-17). Junior DS/L Abby Monson leads the Spartans with 225 digs, with Bailey a distant second at 169. Garvelink is the top MSU blocker, posting 6 solos and 48.5 total blocks.

Junior MB Danielle Cuttino retains the Boiler lead in kills, pushing her total to 319 with a .281 hitting percentage. Redshirt senior MB Faye Adelaja has dropped below .400, but she's still easily in the front of the pack at .392 on 152 kills; junior OH Azariah Stahl (223 at .151), redshirt sophomore OH Sherridan Atkinson (152 at .237) and redshirt freshman MB Blake Mohler (119 at an even .300) round out the group in triple digits. Redshirt junior S Ashley Evans is closing in on four digits in assists, with 861 of Purdue's 992, and she now leads the Boilers with 21 aces (-7); true freshman L/DS Natalie Haben has 19 and leads Purdue at +5, with sophomore L/DS Brooke Peters (18, -21) and Stahl (15, -6) also having double-digit aces. Haben leads Purdue with 227 digs, followed by Stahl (186), Peters (175), and Evans (174), with redshirt sophomore DS Carissa Haben (144) rounding out the group. Stahl also leads the Boilers with 17 solo blocks, and Mohler continues to lead the team with 46.5 total blocks.

Massey is cautiously optimistic about the weekend, listing Purdue as a 57% favorite, winning both matches 3-2. (The Boilers are still winless at home in five-set matches, 0-3.) Start times return to their normal 7 PM EDT, with the same media lineup for both: WSHY 1410 AM, and BTN+ Friday and Saturday. You can also give the GameTracker a try for the UM and MSU matches. The Boilers will not face Michigan again this year (#thanksDelany), but will make the return trip to East Lansing in the middle of an odd stretch that starts after Saturday's match: each of Purdue's final 8 matches has at least one full day of rest preceding it.

Reusing a feature image because, you know, road matches. Sure would be nice for the AD to spring for photos on the road ...

FREE CANDY! The PSU Predicto!

FREE CANDY! The PSU Predicto!

Sometimes Moral Victories Are OK: Purdue falls short against Nebraska, 27-14

Sometimes Moral Victories Are OK: Purdue falls short against Nebraska, 27-14