VB Upsets Michigan for Weekend Split

VB Upsets Michigan for Weekend Split

The growing popularity and TV exposure for women's volleyball meant that of the 10 weeks in this season's conference schedule, Purdue would play on both Friday and Saturday in exactly three of them, and all three of those weekends would be consecutive. The last of those three back-to-back matches took place in Holloway last weekend, and as in the first two, Purdue split the pair, dropping AVCA #13 Michigan in four sets before falling to AVCA #15 Michigan State in four. The split kept Purdue tied for 10th in conference play with Indiana, who matched Purdue's weekend split with an upset of Michigan, and left them a game behind Ohio State, who split with Maryland (?!) Friday and Sunday. 

Purdue thoroughly outplayed the Wolverines Friday, holding them under 20 points in three of the four sets and leading for the majority of the match; they also led wire-to-wire in set 1 on Saturday, but after falling in a closely-played set 2, they could not sustain that momentum, and the Spartans took the remaining two sets with relative ease.

Purdue 3, Michigan 1 (25-19, 20-25, 25-15, 25-17)

Same-old same-old for the Good Gals on Friday: Evans, Stahl, Peters, Adelaja, Mohler, and Danielle Cuttino starting, with Haben at libero and Damler and Atkinson also rotating in. No Dorn, no Shavona Cuttino, and surprisingly no Rohrsen, not even once.

Purdue got off to their usual micro-quick start, going up 2-0 with Stahl serving, but the Wolverines claimed the first real run of the game, turning a 3-1 Purdue lead into a 3-6 UM lead, and right away Dave Shondell was forced to use a timeout. A second-hit kill by Evans broke the run, and Purdue would close to 5-6 before the visitors pulled away again. The sides played mostly even from that point until a Haben service error made the score 12-14 Michigan. A Mohler kill got the Boilers the serve back, and with Evans at the line, Purdue ran off three more points, got one Michigan timeout, ran off three more (including two aces), and got the other timeout as well. The Wolverines finally got Evans off the line thanks to an Abby Cole kill, but at 19-15, the damage had been done, and Michigan would not get closer than three, with Stahl on the line as the Boilers won the set the same way they started it: a solo block by Cuttino on Claire Kieffer-Wright followed by a Cuttino kill. The 25-19 win seemed to be a good omen for the sets to come.

Ima take this set with a kill kthxbai

Set two was much like the opener, only with more ties; again Purdue scored first, and again Michigan went up 3-6, only with three two-point bursts instead of one long run. The Boilers responded with four of their own to lead 7-6; Michigan would tie at 7-7 (followed shortly by a yellow card on "Michigan Coach", whom we'll assume is head coach Mark Rosen) , 8-8, and 9-9 before taking a 9-10 lead on a Kieffer-Wright/Carly Skjodt block of Adelaja, and surprisingly, Purdue would never get the lead back. They would tie at 10-10, 11-11, 12-12, and 13-13, but two kills by Katherine Mahlke and an Evans attack error put Michigan up 13-16, and there would be no more ties. The Good Gals closed within two on six consecutive opportunities, the latest coming on an Atkinson kill at 19-21, but back-to-back kills by Kelly Murphy and Kieffer-Wright doubled the lead, forcing Shondell to use a timeout, and another Murphy kill gave Michigan their first set point of the evening. Purdue would fight it off, with an Adelaja kill making it 20-24, but Murphy's sixth kill of the set gave UM a 20-25 win and evened the match at 1.

Guess what? Purdue scored first in set 3. I know, I know, you never would have guessed it. Michigan responded with two, and the sides traded points through 3-4, when a service error by Jenna Lerg put Damler on the line. Four points later, the Boilers were up 8-4 and Michigan was using a timeout, but unlike the first set, it was too late: Purdue would extend their lead to 10-5, then 13-6 on a Murphy service error and two aces by Peters, then 15-7, 17-8, and 19-9. The Wolverines would stop a set point at 24-14 on a Skjodt kill, but Cuttino took care of set point #2, and at 25-15, Purdue held what seemed to be a commanding 2-1 lead.

Blocking against Michigan - very successful

As it turned out, it was. Set four was much like set three, only if you take away a few of Michigan's early points. Purdue's quick 2-0 start was all they needed, and without an early run of their own, Michigan found themselves behind 8-3 and calling timeout. The Boilers would add one more for 9-3, and after trading points a couple of times, Purdue blew the set open, using a 9-2 run to go up 20-8 and eventually 22-9. UM had a late four-point run, causing Shondell to use a focus timeout, and then held off three set points starting at 24-14, but a Tiffany Clark service error ended their last run, and the Good Gals had a comfortable 25-17 set win and 3-1 match win.

If you expected Purdue to dominate the boxscore after reading that summary, you wouldn't be wrong. The Boilers outhit Michigan .297 to .171, recorded 51 assists to UM's 44, served more aces (7-4), outperformed them at the line (+3 to -3), outdug them (54-48), and soundly outblocked them (9-3).

Purdue had outstanding attack efforts from Danielle Cuttino (19 kills at .333), Faye Adelaja (12 at .375) and Sherridan Atkinson (13 at .355). Ashley Evans had a match-high 46 assists and was spectacular at the line, with a match-high 4 aces and no service errors. Azariah Stahl led Purdue with 14 digs, while Natalie Haben added 13 as the libero. Cuttino added 2 solo blocks and 3.5 total to lead the team in both categories. 

Michigan's attack was led by OH Kelly Murphy, who had 12 kills at .235. S MacKenzi Welsh had 42 of the Wolverines' 44 assists. Libero Jenna Lerg had 2 of UM's 5 aces and was the only Michigan player above 0 at the line (+1), and she had a match-high 18 digs as well, with Murphy (15) joining her in double figures. MB/OPP Abby Cole had Michigan's only solo block and also added an assist for a team-high 1.5 total.

Purdue 1, Michigan State 3 (25-20, 21-25, 16-25, 18-25)

Some changes for Purdue in this match, particularly once things started to go south: Rohrsen served in three sets, and Shavona Cuttino replaced Atkinson for the entire fourth set.

Fans who chose a packed Holloway over a bar with the World Series on - perhaps because there were technical difficulties that prevented BTN+ from carrying the match - were in for a treat in set one: Purdue ran off the first four points and never looked back. The Spartans would eventually cut into the lead, but each time they did, the Boilers would pull away again: up 8-7, they made it 11-7; up 12-11, they made it 17-11 around an MSU timeout; and up 19-17 after their own timeout, after trading points to 21-19, Purdue got the next three for a 24-19 lead. A Peters service error gave the Spartans one last chance, but Adelaja took care of that with a kill, and Purdue was up 1-0. Could the Boilers pull off a second straight upset?

Quick set from Evans to Adelaja; I always like these plays

Michigan State had other ideas, grabbing the first point of the set - the first time in six sets Purdue didn't get it - and quickly led 2-5. The Good Gals slowly chipped away at the lead, finally pulling in front 9-8, and wisely, head coach Cathy George called a timeout. After trading points, the teams traded leads: MSU up 10-12, Purdue up 14-12, MSU up 14-15, and ... whoops. The Boilers only managed to tie at 15, and after Michigan State pulled ahead on a Chloe Reinig kill and a Holly Toliver ace, Shondell used a timeout at 15-17, but the Boilers never quite got their rhythm back. Purdue would cut the lead to 17-18, but MSU scored four of the next five, and Shondell had to use his remaining timeout at 18-22. The Boilers did get as close as two again, but at 21-23, a Haben service error and a Brooke Kranda ace finished the set, 21-25. It would be the closest Purdue would get the rest of the way.

MSU got off to an even better start in set three, going up 0-3 and then 2-8, with Shondell burning an early timeout. It only got worse, as the Boilers got just one to end the run at 3-8, then gave up two more to trail 3-10. They'd close to 6-11 before another Spartans run drew Purdue's other timeout, and at 6-15, things were looking bad for the Good Gals. However, an Adelaja kill started a 5-0 Boiler run, and with MSU calling timeout at 11-15, Purdue wasn't out of it yet; they'd close to 13-16 before a two-point MSU run, and then an Adelaja kill made it 14-18. A Reinig kill got Kranda back on the line, and then it was ace, ace, ace, ace for 14-23. The Boilers split the points the rest of the set, but at 16-25, set three definitely didn't go their way, and things weren't looking good for set four either.

Blocking against Michigan State - y u block me again?

Perhaps Shondell read this as well, because he rested Atkinson and used Shavona Cuttino throughout set four. Although Purdue did get the first point, MSU was up 2-4, 3-6, and then suddenly it was 4-12, the Boilers burned a timeout, and Kranda didn't even have an ace yet. The Spartans were never really threatened, coasting to the point where George used a timeout at 12-18. Kranda would manage one more ace, forcing match point at 16-24, and even though she wouldn't get it, MSU would take the match on a Reinig/Alyssa Garvelink block of Danielle Cuttino, with the 18-25 margin not indicative of the strength the visitors had shown in the set.

Just as Purdue dominated the numbers Friday, Michigan State controlled them Saturday: hitting percentage (.179 to .111), assists (46 to 40), aces (13 to 2), serving (+1 to -3), and blocks (12 to 11). The Boilers did manage a small edge in digs, 59 to 56.

OH Chloe Reinig posted a match-high 15 kills for the Spartans, hitting a team-high .367, and OH Autumn Bailey joined her in double figures with 13 at .226. S Rachel Minarick recorded 38 assists and 11 digs, with libero Abby Monson (match-high 14) and OH Holly Toliver (10) also in double digits. Minarick and Reinig each had one solo block, and Reinig added five assists to join MB/OPP Allyssah Fitterer with 3.5 total blocks. The real star of the boxscore, though, was OH/RS Brooke Kranda, who racked up a school-record 9 aces against just 2 service errors, with her +7 more than offsetting her teammates' -6. (Toliver added 3 aces at -2, and Minarick had the other ace and was even.)

For the Boilers, Danielle Cuttino led the way again with 14 kills, but managed to hit just .103 against a stout Spartan defense. Faye Adelaja (10 at .241) and Azariah Stahl (10 at .118) also posted double-digit kills, and Shavona Cuttino hit a solid .750, albeit on just 4 attacks. Ashley Evans had 34 of the 40 Purdue assists and added a team-high 13 digs, with Stahl (12) the only other Boiler at 10+. Adelaja had a match-high 2 solo blocks and led the team with 3 total.

Overall thoughts

This weekend really highlighted the puzzling inconsistency of this year's team: Friday's match would have been their most impressive home win if it hadn't been for the stomping they administered to Kansas, a team that's lost only one other match (1-3 at Texas) in 22 this season, but Saturday's loss made them look very much like the unranked team they currently are. Without actually seeing the match (World Series + no BTN+ feed), I can't say how much of Kranda's sterling performance was her serves themselves and how much was Purdue's struggles returning serves, but it is notable that even with the huge improvement that Evans' jump serves have given to Purdue's service game, she's still got just 25 aces in 23 matches, and that leads the team (Peters has 21 and Haben 20). 

It'll be interesting to see how Purdue's resume looks come tournament time. The Boilers definitely have marquee wins - at Stanford, home to Kansas, home to Michigan - and as Iowa continues to improve (they beat Illinois in five after taking Northwestern in four), the only clearly bad loss on their schedule is Northwestern. This may be a tournament team after all, especially if they can steal a win at Penn State or Ohio State. There are potential bad losses as well, though: either Maryland match, plus the return match in Bloomington. If the Boilers end up 18-13, they'll probably make it; less than that and they may need some help.

Next up

Got Wednesdays? The Boilers do, as they'll play each of the next four Wednesdays, which means tomorrow! Yes indeed, that old devil-network BTN has Purdue-Maryland live from Holloway Gym at 6:00 PM EDT. If you're lucky, things will wrap up in time for you to catch almost all of Game 7 from Cleveland. The Boilers will then commence Leg 1 of their two-leg season-ending road trip, playing at Wisconsin Saturday at 8:00 PM EDT on BTN+. If you're expecting a split from those matches, you are wise in the ways of volleyball, dear reader. Massey expects sweeps, with Purdue a 93% favorite on Wednesday and a 7% underdog on Saturday. WSHY 1410 AM will do the radio honors, and remember that video is split, with TV-only folks getting the Wednesday match and online folks getting the Saturday option ... yes, here's your GameTracker links for Wednesday and Saturday, yes, Sidearm Stats are better than our GameTracker, I don't know why Iowa and Wisconsin get all the nice things, I just work here.

You may remember Maryland from such stories as "Why did we invite them to the conference?" and "Is that really a workable road trip?" Hey, at least the upcoming road trip is Bloomington-University Park-College Park-Columbus, with plenty of travel time mixed in, right? Anyway, the new kids come to town with a lot of Ls in conference play and just two Ws ... however, the more recent one is a 3-2 win over Ohio State, so let's hope the Boilers take nothing for granted on Wednesday evening. The Terrapins are led by freshman OH Gia Milana, who's got a whopping 330 kills, nearly double that of her next-closest teammate; she is hitting only .151, as you'd expect from someone getting so many attacks (980). Sophomore OH Liz Twilley (176 at .155) is the only Maryland player with even half of Milana, with sophomore OPP Angel Gaskin (165 at .142) and junior MB Hailey Murray (152 at .252) rounding out the offensive options. Freshman S Taylor Smith gets the bulk of the work up front, leading the team with 630 assists, although senior S Whitney Craigo (176) gets some reps as well. Sophomore libero Kelsey Wicinski leads six Maryland players in double-digit aces, with 23 against 27 errors; senior MB Ashlyn MacGregor (18/17, +1) is the only Terrapin above zero. Wicinski is the clear leader in digs, as you might expect, with 372 to Milana's 199; junior L/DS Samantha Higginbothem has 140, and Smith has 119. MacGregor (11) and Murray (9) lead Maryland in solo blocks, while MacGregor is far and away the overall leader at 68.5 total.

It seems so long ago that the Boilers gave Wisconsin a scare in West Lafayette; since then, the only marks on Wisconsin's report card have been 0-3 sweeps home to Minnesota and at Nebraska, and they've dispatched Illinois (3-1) and Iowa (3-0 away) as well as Penn State (3-1). Not much has changed for the Badgers since my last review: Haggerty, Nelson, Carlini, Bates, Williams ... it's the same old song and dance, my friends. Carlini is 4th in the Big Tenteen with 0.35 aces per set and 2nd in assists (11.47); Williams is 5th in blocks (1.29) and 7th in hitting percentage (.355), while Nelson is 13th (1.07) and 7th (.355) respectively. Purdue hasn't won in Madison since 2011, a 3-0 season-ending sweep by Massey's #5 of a .500 team, so I wouldn't expect that to change Saturday.

For the Boilers, redshirt junior S Ashley Evans is fifth in the conference at 10.69 assists per set - thanks to some longer matches, she's leading the conference in total assists at 941. Redshirt senior MB Faye Adelaja is fifth in hitting percentage (.378), while junior MB Danielle Cuttino is all over the board: third in kills per set (4.00) and first overall (352), fourth in points per set (4.38) and second overall (385.5). 

Purdue is still hanging around in second among Others Receiving Votes, behind Missouri this week and seven ranked Big Tenteen teams; Massey has them at #24, easily in NCAA tournament range.

Images courtesy of Purdue Athletics, by Dave Wegiel and John Underwood

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