VB Tops Iowa On Senior Night For Weekly Split #5
Saturday evening, a sellout crowd packed Holloway Gym to send off redshirt senior MB Faye Adelaja, and Purdue responded with a 3-1 win over Iowa in Adelaja's final home match as a Boiler. Former teammates and classmates Annie Drews, Amanda Neill and Kate Workman were part of the 2,415 in attendance to cheer on the lone graduating senior and her teammates; Senior Night festivities included recognition for the two student members of the staff who are graduating, as well as Iowa's four seniors. It's a tradition that I really enjoy - in fact, it occasionally gets a little dusty in Holloway, or maybe it's just my allergies and the unseasonably-warm weather - and I look forward to it every season, even when the Big Tenteen is stupid enough to make it, say, a Wednesday match against Rutgers, like it was in 2014.
Anyway, the victory took a bit of the sting out of a sweep at Michigan State on Wednesday that was closer than the score would make it appear. For the fifth straight week, and the sixth time in conference play, Purdue has split matches ... and unfortunately, with 0-2 records in the other two weeks, the Boilers are in dangerous territory with respect to the NCAA tournament right now. Even though the Good Gals still have a nice RPI - #21 through Sunday's matches - it may not be enough to get the tenth-best team in the Big Tenteen into the dance. While it's unlikely that the nine teams currently above the Boilers will all get in (Illinois, for example, is just one match above .500 and has a seven-match losing streak, with their best wins at home against MSU and on the road at, uh, Purdue), that doesn't mean the selection committee will necessarily drop that far. If the Boilers split their remaining matches, they'll finish 8-12 in conference play ... unfortunately I don't have resources for this like I do for men's basketball, but my feeling is that the committee is not looking for a team that won 40% of its conference matches, regardless of the quality of opposition there. The Boilers could still get in (and I hope they do), but they'd be well-served to win 3 or all 4 of their remaining matches.
Purdue 0, Michigan State 3 (28-30, 22-25, 19-25)
Same-old same-old lineup: no Lexi Dorn, no Shavona Cuttino, Linnea Rohrsen only to serve for Blake Mohler, and only on one occasion. Natalie Haben at libero and the usual six on the floor.
With Purdue's struggles on the road and against ranked teams, there was no reason to expect the Boilers to play well Wednesday, and when the set began, fears to that effect may have been justified: MSU ran off three straight points, then pushed their lead to 2-6 and finally 3-8. After a timeout, Purdue settled down, trading points through 5-10, and then after an Allyssah Fitterer service error, Brooke Peters keyed a 6-0 run with consecutive aces; the Spartans managed a tying point, but Purdue responded with three more points around a Michigan State timeout, and at 14-11, the Good Gals were looking more like the team that won at Stanford than the side that had managed just a five-set win at Illinois in five conference road matches. The Spartans closed to 16-15, but Purdue had another run that included an ace from Carissa Damler, and at 20-15, the Boilers were poised to steal the first set ... but the home side struck back with a vengeance, cutting the lead to 20-17, then 21-20 around Purdue's remaining timeout, and finally tying it again at 22. From there, the teams traded set points: MSU at 23-24, Purdue at 25-24, MSU at 25-26, Purdue at 27-26, MSU at 27-28 and again at 28-29 before the Boilers finally broke, with a Brooke Kranda kill providing a much-needed set 1 win for Michigan State.
Set two was largely the opposite of the opener, with the Boilers going up 3-1 and 7-3 and MSU responding to make it 8-7 and then 10-11, their first lead since 0-1. An Alyssa Garvelink attack error and two Adelaja kills got Purdue a 13-11 lead, but the Spartans quickly tied it, and Purdue wouldn't lead by more than a point the rest of the way. Dave Shondell used timeouts at 17-19 and 20-22 to blunt Michigan State runs, but the Boilers could do no better than a 22-22 tie; the hosts answered with a Garvelink kill, and attack errors by Danielle Cuttino and Adelaja sent the Spartans off with an 0-2 lead at the break.
Rachel Minarick started set three with two of her match-high three aces as part of an 0-3 start for the Spartans; Purdue would never lead, although interestingly, they trailed by no more than 4 for the bulk of the set (which meant no timeouts - generally, a five-point lead means an automatic TO from the trailing coach), and the Boilers even managed a 5-1 run to draw even at 16-16 with Mohler on the line. A kill from Kranda gave the Spartans a 16-17 lead, and attack errors from Azariah Stahl and Sherridan Atkinson, the latter on a Garvelink/Kranda block, drew a Shondell timeout and gave MSU some breathing room at 16-19. Purdue could not get closer than one, and after a three-point Spartan run saw another Purdue timeout at 18-22, an Adelaja kill would be the last point for the Good Gals, with Garvelink and Autumn Bailey getting MSU to match point and Chloe Reinig and Garvelink blocking a Cuttino attack for the winner.
The box score didn't quite draw the same picture as the match - you'd think it was tipped a little more heavily in favor of the hosts - but you'll get the right idea anyway. Michigan State had edges in kills (45-40), hitting percentage (.212-.132), aces (4-3), and blocks (11-7); Purdue did manage a slight edge in digs (46-44), but that was it.
OH Chloe Reinig led the Spartans with 12 kills at .269, while MB/OPP Allyssah Fitterer had 7 kills at .462 to lead MSU in attack percentage. S Rachel Minarick had a match-high 39 assists and 3 of the Spartans' 4 aces (+2 at the line), with Fitterer (-1) adding the other ace. Libero Abby Monson was the only player on either side with double-figure digs (14), and MB Alyssa Garvelink posted match highs in solo blocks (2), block assists (8) and of course total blocks (6).
For the Boilers, MB Danielle Cuttino posted a match-high 13 kills but was held to just .105, while MB Faye Adelaja hit a sizzling .471 with 12 kills in 17 attacks. S Ashley Evans had 36 of Purdue's 38 assists. DS Brooke Peters had a team-high 2 aces (+1) and shared honors with fellow DS Carissa Damler, with each player recording 9 digs. OH Sherridan Atkinson and Cuttino each had a solo block, and Adelaja managed 2.5 total to lead Purdue. MB Blake Mohler, the team leader in blocks, did not record a block for the first time in the redshirt freshman's career.
Purdue 3, Iowa 1 (21-25, 25-19, 25-22, 25-16)
Pretty much the same lineup Saturday as Wednesday, except instead of Rohrsen coming in for a single serve, she came in for a single defensive point. Everyone else played their usual roles.
The first set started exactly as you'd hope Senior Night would play out: two quick points for the Boilers, an Iowa point on a Peters service error, and then four more Purdue points. Iowa surprisingly didn't take a timeout at 6-1 ... and they fought back anyway, knocking the lead down to 6-3 and then 7-5. The teams traded points through 10-7, and then the Iowing began: the Hawkeyes got the lead down to one twice, at 10-9 and 11-10, and at 12-10, they ran off four straight to get a Boiler timeout at 12-14 ... then got three more to burn the other Purdue timeout at 12-17 ... and after a Purdue point, they got two more to turn what was a two-point Boiler lead into a six-point Iowa lead, 13-19. The Good Gals wouldn't get closer than four, and a Meghan Buzzerio kill finished the first set at 21-25, an ominous sign for a Purdue team that couldn't handle the surprising Hawkeyes in Iowa City. (Oddly, the Iowa fans making the trip didn't stand at 24. I thought it was an understood thing that you stood at 24, home or away. We certainly haven't asked other fans to sit at 24. Maybe it's not a thing? Or maybe Iowa fans are excessively polite? NTTAWWT)
UPDATE: I completely forgot about this when I originally wrote the recap. Early in the first set, there was a point where an Iowa dig went awry, and the ball sailed off the court toward the corner where the drummer sets up, right toward Purdue Pete, who caught it easily. Except ... there was an Iowa player chasing the still-live ball, and while she would have been unable to do much more than touch it, she was close enough that she nearly ran into Pete and ended up almost crashing into the front row of the band. The Iowa bench was up in arms (understandably so, for two reasons: that was both dangerous and also interference), but the four mice gave Purdue a reprieve, leaving it as a Boiler point. Pete made himself scarce for most of the rest of the match - it wouldn't surprise me if this particular Pete didn't get any more volleyball assignments. (I didn't like his costume anyway: he wore the striped pants that look a lot like a black-and-white version of that team down south's basketball warmups.)
What the Boilers desperately needed was a wire-to-wire set win, and they got that in set 2. The Good Gals got their usual 1-0 start, gave up a point to Iowa on a Reghan Coyle kill ... and then ran off five straight to take their second 6-1 lead of the match. This time, the Hawkeyes did use a TO, but the Boilers got two Cuttino kills to go up 8-1, and it was cruising time from there. Iowa did draw as close as 13-9, but a 6-2 Purdue run had the Boilers safely ahead at the other Iowa timeout, 19-11. From there it was mostly a matter of playing out the set, and the Good Gals did just that, finishing off Iowa on another Cuttino kill. It was 1-1 at the break, but it seemed like a much more reasonable score than the 1-1 the Boilers managed in Iowa City. (Then again, Purdue took set 3 there ...)
The start of set three was ... not great, Bob. Iowa led 0-1, 1-2 ... and then 2-6, somehow. Timeout Purdue, attack error by Cuttino, 2-7 Iowa, and there was great cause to be worried in Holloway. Fortunately, a Jess Janota service error got the Boilers the serve, and then an Atkinson kill made it 4-7 Iowa, at which point the up ref - whose crew, it should be noted, had made several obvious errors at this point, mostly favoring Purdue - heard something he didn't like or was a little short on Ovaltine or something, and promptly produced a yellow card for ... someone on Iowa. Maybe the coach. Maybe one of the chairs. Maybe the Gatorade cooler. We'll never know. At any rate, it helped fire up the crowd, and it certainly didn't fire up the Hawkeyes, as Purdue knocked the lead down to 7-8 before a Loxley Keala kill got the visitors back on the service line. Iowa couldn't get more than a three-point lead, but Purdue couldn't get even, and the teams marched toward what looked like an Iowa set win ... but at 13-16, a Molly Kelly service error, an Ashley Mariani attack error, and an Atkinson kill finally evened the score at 16. The teams would tie again at 18, 19 and 20 ... and finally the Boilers took the lead on the statistician's nightmare, a triple block (Cuttino/Adelaja/Evans) of Kasey Reuter. Iowa used their first timeout, tied the score on a Reuter kill, and promptly fell behind 23-21 on two more Cuttino kills. Their second timeout was followed by a Buzzerio kill, but a Coyle attack error brought the sellout crowd to their feet, and an Evans ace put the Good Gals up 2-1. Alumnae and fans stood as one and cheered, and it looked like the Boilers might pull this one off yet.
If the fourth set were scripted, it would have shown Purdue slowly pulling away from Iowa as the crowd noise reached a crescendo, finishing on an Adelaja jump-serve ace or solo block with lasers shooting from her eyes or something like that. You know it finished 25-16, but surprisingly, there were 7 ties and 3 lead changes, so the beginning of the set did actually have some drama to it. Iowa again led 0-1, Purdue again responded, but neither team pulled away; in fact, Purdue's 9-7 lead on a Peters ace was the biggest lead to that point in the set. Keala's solo block of Stahl made it 9-8 ... but the set director (pun intended) finally arrived, and Purdue rattled off a quick three points, getting Iowa's first TO at 12-8. The Hawkeyes' last stand was an answering three-point run, but Purdue held off tie attempts at 12-11 and 13-12, and after two Mohler blocks (one with Atkinson and one with Cuttino) and a Cuttino kill, it was 17-12 Purdue, Iowa used its final timeout, and the match was basically over. The Good Gals slowly pulled away, eventually going up 24-15 during a 6-1 run that included another yellow card on Iowa that I did not see (seriously, who are they booking, the training staff?); Peters' service error held off match point #1, but as you'd hope, Adelaja put down the final point of the match, giving Purdue the 25-16 set and 3-1 match win.
As with the MSU match, the box score didn't quite draw the same picture that the scoreboard did. Purdue did have the edge in every category, though: kills (61-51), attack percentage (.308-.221), assists (51-49), aces (5-4), digs (46-43), and blocks (10.5-3). Despite all that, Adelaja didn't have the stat line Hollywood drew up for her home finale - 9 kills at .174 - but the Hawkeyes paid a price for focusing on her and overall kill leader Cuttino (16 at .220): outside hitters feasted on Iowa's D, as Stahl had her most productive match since Minnesota, with 15 kills at .429, and Atkinson added 12 kills at .556. Evans had 46 of Purdue's 51 aces and was one of four Boilers with at least one ace: Peters led the Good Gals with 2, while Stahl and Haben added one apiece. Haben led all players with 13 digs, and Adelaja topped everyone with 3 total blocks (for a change, no Boiler had a solo block).
The visitors had three players with double-digit kills: RS Reghan Coyle (12 at .292), OH/RS Meghan Buzzerio (11 at .167) and MB Jess Janota (10 at a team-high .391). S Loxley Keala had 42 of Iowa's 49 aces despite playing a good portion of the match after taking a hard shot off her face - she required a small bit of attention from the Iowa training staff, and was frequently rubbing her face and nose the rest of the way (as one does when taking a DI-caliber kill off it), but didn't show other adverse signs from the hit, and will hopefully be at full strength for the Hawkeyes' match against Rutgers Wednesday. Janota, Keala, DS Molly Kelly, and libero Annika Olsen each had an ace for the visitors; Olsen added a team-high 12 digs, while Keala's solo block was the only one of the match, and Coyle and Janota shared team honors with 1 total apiece.
Purdue definitely should have taken at least one set in East Lansing - their serving struggles proved costly on one occasion as Evans served an error on set point, but a greater issue was the predictability of their offense, where time and time again the Boilers would set to a player MSU had totally covered. This wouldn't be such a problem if Purdue had better passing and setting skills, because you can get away with running the same play repeatedly if you're moving the ball around enough ... but that's not within the current team's abilities, and so they frequently squander points because they can't score on a telegraphed attack.
On the other hand, they went into a situation that showed no promise given the Spartans' win in West Lafayette, and in each of the first two sets, they stayed in it until the end. That may be the most accurate barometer of this team: the ability to play any team tough without the extra boost needed to beat good teams regularly. That wouldn't be as much of a problem in most conferences, but in a conference with four top-10 teams, three more in the top 20, and three more (including Purdue) in the top 40, too many matches are against good teams. (It doesn't help when you lose to not-good teams, and while Northwestern gave Wisconsin quite a scare on Saturday, pushing the Badgers to five sets, they still have just one Big Tenteen win this season, the four-set win over the Good Gals in Evanston.)
It's been a pleasure watching Faye throughout her career: my first year as a season ticket holder was her redshirt year, and I've seen her every season since. For as well as she's played - she's within reach of Kiki Jones' career hitting percentage record (.367) - her position is the deepest on the team. Danielle is approaching a pace that would put her near the top 10 in kills (for perspective, Annie Drews is 11th with 1373; Cuttino had just 384 through two seasons and is at 790 now), Blake would make the top 10 in block assists even if she doesn't improve at all in her career, and Shavona has shown promise in her limited appearances. The Boilers may not come away with much this season, but next year could be something significantly better.
If it's November, there must be a Wednesday match, and indeed there is, as the Boilers travel to Bloomington for a chance to sweep Indiana before continuing out to University Park for another shot at Penn State. This is one of only two road-trip weeks this season featuring opponents Purdue also played at home: the other was the swing through Wisconsin and Michigan State that the Boilers just finished last week. Notably, Indiana is the only one of those teams Purdue beat ... and also the only unranked team in the group.
The Good Gals continue to slide down the AVCA poll, receiving just 22 votes, a fifth of 24th-ranked Ohio State's total. Massey does have Purdue 23rd, but that may not be enough to squeak the Boilers in, so they can use some wins on this four-match road trip. A win over Indiana is essential - not only would a loss to IU put another unranked L on Purdue's resume, but it would pull the Hoosiers into a tie for 10th, and Indiana has Rutgers, not Penn State, as their other opponent this week. Purdue could well find themselves in 11th, and that's unlikely to earn a bid even if they do win their final two matches.
Indiana has recorded a couple of impressive victories in the last couple of weeks, knocking off Michigan and Ohio State at home. They're still clearly a second-division team, with their other conference wins coming against cellar-dwellers Northwestern and Rutgers, but University Gym won't be an easy place to play even if you don't consider the rivalry; the Boilers would do well to lead early and keep Indiana out of the match.
Penn State has gone through something of a slide lately, dropping five of their last seven ... yes, four were on the road and the fifth was against Nebraska in five sets, but the Nittany Lions did win their first nine conference matches. They face Nebraska in Lincoln on Wednesday, so it won't be a surprise if their skid extends to six of their last eight, and they'll be eager to win out to keep hopes of first- and second-round hosting alive ... finishing against Northwestern and Illinois, they would seemingly just need the Purdue win to make that happen.
Massey predicts the usual: a 3-1 win at Indiana and a 1-3 loss at Penn State. I would not be surprised to see those results shift a set toward the opponents: a five-set win in Bloomington seems more likely, and Penn State is geared for a sweep. The Boilers can only put together so many good road performances in one season.
Are you interested in following the matches? Of course you are! Both matches will be played at 7 PM ET and aired on BTN+ and WSHY 1410 AM: you can watch Indiana and Penn State live or on replay if you've shelled out the big bucks like I did, or you can track the matches through Sidearm Stats for IU or CBSeh for Penn State.
Photos courtesy of Purdue Athletics and John Underwood