VB Sweeps Indiana, Keeps Monon Spppppppppike In West Lafayette

VB Sweeps Indiana, Keeps Monon Spppppppppike In West Lafayette

Saturday was a glorious day for sports, if we can agree not to discuss the AL wild-card race: Purdue football played and apparently won, Notre Dame football apparently played and lost again, Indy Eleven thumped the first-place Cosmos 3-0 to nearly cut their deficit in half (although it may only matter for home field if the Eleven win their first playoff match, as they qualified for that by winning the Spring Season) ... and for once last week, Purdue's volleyball opponents read from the proper script. Indiana dutifully showed up and played the expected part, as the Boilers thumped them soundly, 25-15, 25-17, 25-18, in front of more than 8,000 fans in a reasonably-comfortable Mackey Arena. (It appears that Mackey has some sort of AC, because we didn't cook, but it also wasn't, say, reasonable office temperature there.) This year, the match in West Lafayette was the one for the Monon Spike, which now has 9 consecutive Ps on it, the second-longest streak in trophy history. (The Boilers chained together 10 straight Ps from 1978 through 1985, playing for the Spike twice in 1979 and 1980.) 

For the first time in years, I sat in my proper seats for the Mackey match - season-ticket holders can buy an upgrade for like $3 to sit in the comfy seats, but in the past, I had friends in school there, and students get in free, so we'd sit in the upper bowl with them. This time, we sat where normally you'd see the fancy-pants crowd, and it was interesting. (My friend and I are on the right side of the picture, under the scoreboard to the right, nine rows up. I'm the bald guy with the #5 jersey - of course it's a generic Purdue football jersey and you can't get just any number because the NCAA sucks.) The seats are very soft and comfortable, but also quite narrow (I mean, this is still Mackey, they still assume everyone grew up during the Great Depression or something) and thus kind of difficult to get up out of. Still, they're significantly better than the view from the other side (where I have WBB tickets), and if you're far enough down, the rows are short enough that you don't have to stand up to let people by often. Also, I suspect more than a few of us appreciated the stark difference between these seats and our seats in Holloway. Sure would be nice to have an arena with multiple tiers of premium seats ... anyway, off to the recap.

Purdue 3, Indiana 0 (25-15, 25-17, 25-18)

No lineup changes: Linnea Rohrsen was the only bench player to make an appearance. (Would have been nice to give the other two some court time against a rival, though.)

This isn't actually the apex of their jump. No wonder the Boilers attack and block well.

Set one was a significant departure from recent matches and was most definitely a sign of things to come. Indiana grabbed the first point on an Allison Hammond kill, but the Boilers ran off three straight points for a lead they would not relinquish. Up 4-3, Purdue got the serve on a Blake Mohler kill, then another Mohler kill, an ace from Ashley Evans, and a Danielle Cuttino kill forced Indiana coach Sherry Dunbar-Kruzan to call her first timeout. (Dunbar-Kruzan is no stranger to the series; in her 11th year at IU, this was her 21st Purdue-Indiana match. Surprisingly, #ThanksDelany hasn't cut the home-and-home series to a single match yet.) A service error by Evans broke the run, and IU ended up as close as 8-6, but a Megan Tallman service error gave the Boilers the serve, and after trading points, Purdue went on a 7-2 run to draw IU's final timeout and put the set away. A Taylor Lebo service error put Carissa Damler on the line to serve set point #1, and the Boilers converted on an attack error by Hammond, winning easily, 25-15.

That's gonna be a kill ...

The first half of set two was more tightly contested; the visitors grabbed the first two points and led 2-3 as well; a Meaghan Koors ace (Indiana's only ace of the night) evened the score at 5, but the Boilers picked up the next two points, and after a Hayden Huybers kill, three Boiler points (a Hammond service error, a solo block by Azariah Stahl on Huybers, and a Hammond attack error) gave Purdue a safe lead, 10-6. IU drew as close as 12-10, but another service error and another Cuttino kill earned an IU timeout, and a 3-1 Purdue run saw the lead balloon to 17-11. Indiana would use its second timeout as a Hammond service error and a Stahl kill put Purdue up 20-13, but the Hoosiers could not put together consecutive points, and despite holding off set point on a Hammond kill, a Lebo service error gave Purdue the 25-17 set and a 2-0 lead at the break.

That's gonna be a kill ...

Set three was a different story. The Good Gals led from start to finish, going up 4-0 on a Tallman service error, a Cuttino kill, a Stahl ace, and a solo block by Faye Adelaja on Jazzmine McDonald. Up 5-3, Purdue reeled off six straight points around an Indiana timeout, and at 11-3, it was just a matter of playing out the string. Indiana chipped a little bit into the lead, cutting it down to 15-9 and later to 19-14 and 20-15, but they could not get any closer, and a Mohler kill at 24-18 gave the Boilers the match, the sweep and the Spike.

The Boilers absolutely dominated the box score. Purdue outhit Indiana .517 to .226, the fifth-best attack percentage in team history and the second best since rally scoring (a point on any serve; in the old days you scored only on your own serve, and a side out simply gave the other side the chance to serve to score) was introduced. (The Boilers hit .529 against George Washington in the Holloway Convection Oven on 8/25/2012.) They were dead even at the service line, with 4 aces and 4 errors, while the Hoosiers, who came into the match 4th in the nation in aces per set, posted a whopping -13 (1 ace, 14 errors). Purdue also outblocked Indiana 9 to 2 and outdug them 21 to 14. The Boilers also had only 6 attack errors, which unfortunately isn't a stat in the record books, but offhand it seems like a pretty low number to me. (In the pre-rally era, Purdue did have 30 kills and 2 errors on 50 attempts against Notre Dame in 1983; that .560 percentage is tops on the list.)

Not sure but I think that ball ran across the net and onto the floor to avoid getting crushed by Adelaja

Individually, the Boilers were led by ... everyone, pretty much. The Hoosiers focused on stopping Stahl, who had 6 kills at .286, but they simply couldn't match Sherridan Atkinson (7 kills at .600) or the Trio of Doom in the middle: Adelaja had 8 kills at .889, Mohler had 7 at .875, and Cuttino had 9 at .333. Evans had a single attack attempt; there was no need for her to go over on two when the third hit was so effective. She did record 3 aces to lead both teams; Stahl had the other, with Brooke Peters (2), Evans and Damler posting service errors. Damler had a match-high 7 digs, and Adelaja led everyone with 3 total blocks (1 solo, 4 assists).

OH Allison Hammond led the Hoosiers with 9 kills, but hit only .040 as the Boilers effectively kept her in check. RS Elizabeth Asdell hit .357 with 8 kills, and OH Kendall Beerman added 7 kills at .417. DS Meaghan Koors recorded Indiana's only ace; she was also the only Hoosier with 1 service error, as five other players had 2 or more (libero Taylor Lebo had 5). Lebo had 4 of Indiana's 14 digs, with no other player posting more than 2. No Hoosier had a solo block; MB Jazzmine McDonald had two assists, one with Asdell and one with Beerman.

Overall thoughts

The big surprise to me was how much of Indiana's service game seemed to be totally due to strength of opponent. (For those of you less familiar with volleyball, opponent strength is a major factor in number of aces served, because a less-experienced player on a weaker team can easily fail to return 4 or more serves in a match, where a more-experienced player or a better team would return most or all of those serves. Look at Purdue's 2015 stats by match to see this: they had 5 or more aces in 7 of their first 8 matches, but managed that in only 6 of 20 conference matches.) Lebo in particular was much less effective than I expected: I remembered her wicked jump serve from past meetings, but her service record against Purdue read error, error, Purdue kill, error, error, Purdue kill, error, Purdue kill. Given the size of University Gym, where Indiana plays its home matches - it's actually my old middle-school gym, although thankfully the Hoosiers have remodeled it since we were last in it; they added a new HVAC system in the oughts - it wouldn't surprise me if the depth of the court in Mackey and the surroundings had an effect on the IU serves. (That, my friends, is an actual home-court advantage.)

I want to touch on this again: .517 is an overwhelming number. Median hitting percentage in DI this season is .203, the same as last season. (Basically, for the average side, they'll get one more point from every five attacks than they concede: attack percentage is (kills - errors) / attacks, where errors can either be blocks or unforced errors.) Median total attacks was roughly 4000 last season, so about 35 per set. An average team would have 7 more kills than errors in a set; if you hit .517, you'd have 18 more kills than errors. Between that and IU's service struggles, it didn't matter that Indiana's .226 was above Purdue's season-to-date average, because there was little chance the Hoosiers would hold serve. Purdue's sideout percentages were 75%, 82%, and 84%. IU hit .480 in the final set and had 62% sideouts ... and still never tied or led.

One thing I forgot as I've been talking (mostly offline) about how it'd be nice to upgrade Holloway: this Mackey match throws off overall attendance significantly. Purdue reported total attendance of 40,379 last season, 8th in Division I, which showed as 110% of capacity ... but 6,220 of that was from the Mackey match against Notre Dame. The other 15 home matches totaled 34,159, which is a handful of seats under Holloway's 2,288 capacity. I still think there is a lot of unmet demand for Purdue volleyball, but it's not as though the Boilers could draw 8,000 per match, special pricing or not. (Nebraska is the only team that drew more than 8,000 in 2015, and the Boilers are a few national titles short of their history.)

While we're on that subject, I see that right now, the Boilers are sixth in average attendance; four other Big Tenteen schools are above them, with Hawai'i the lone outlier. Michigan State isn't far back, and Illinois would normally draw better if they weren't struggling. The BEE ONE GEE is a strong volleyball conference and has the attendance numbers to prove it; it would be great to see Purdue get the money for a facility to match. 

Up next

Because! Two of those four schools, Wisconsin and Minnesota, come to Holloway this weekend, and in case you were wondering about the rankings that are a little more visible than attendance, the AVCA has three reasons for you to follow Big Tenteen volleyball: consensus #1 Nebraska, #2 Minnesota, and #3 Wisconsin. Massey is somewhat bearish on the Gophers, having them at #5, with Nebraska and Wisconsin 1-2. The Badgers ripped through Ohio State and Maryland in straight sets last weekend, while Minnesota dropped a set to the Buckeyes but also swept the Terrapins. Massey doesn't have the Purdue-IU results in yet, but I doubt they'll move the needle much: both weekend matches look to be 1-3 in favor of the visitors.

Purdue sits at #14 in the AVCA poll after their loss to Illinois; Michigan State is 18th, Ohio State is 19th (which is good; escaping the Minnesota/Wisconsin trip with a set in hand is a job well done), Michigan 22nd (the Wolverines have lost just two matches, 2-3 at Pitt and 0-3 Friday evening at Nebraska), and Illinois rounds out the conference at 24th. 

The Badgers would be perfect if not for a five-set loss at North Carolina; they won at Hawai'i in four sets to open the season, swept Kansas State there the same weekend, and have also dispatched San Diego at home 3-0 and Texas (!) in Austin (!!) 3-2. Yea, verily, doth the Badgers defeat (nearly) all who oppose them. Wisconsin's attack is keyed by true freshman OH Molly Haggerty, who leads the Badgers with 122 kills at .240. (If you're wondering how a true freshman has that kind of impact, her bio says that she was the Chicago Tribune/WGN-9 Preps Plus Athlete of the Year. Not "Volleyball Athlete of the Year." Athlete of the Year.) Senior MB Haleigh Nelson, the all-time Wisconsin leader in hitting percentage (.366), leads the team again this season at .341. The offense is run by three-time All-American S Lauren Carlini, who made the NCAA All-Tournament team as a freshman when the Badgers lost in the finals to Penn State. With injuries changing Wisconsin's lineup at libero, it's actually junior OH Kelli Bates who leads the team in digs with 150; Carlini is next with 107. Nelson has a team-high 9 aces; Wisconsin is a surprising -32 at the line, but has allowed just 18 aces to 70 service errors for their opponents. Nelson also leads the team in solo blocks with 8; sophomore MB Tionna Williams is the overall leader with 31.5. 

Minnesota's resume is similar, showing just a four-set loss at Stanford (ha!). They also beat San Diego at Stanford (which is why the Toreros are so highly regarded; those are there only two losses this season, and they've also played Stanford and UCLA), Florida State in Puerto Rico, and both Louisville and North Carolina in Chapel Hill. (That was one heck of a weekend tournament!) The Gophers are the second 2015 Final Four team to face Purdue (Nebraska will be #3, and of course the Boilers actually lost to the other entrant, Texas, in Austin in the second round last season). Senior OH Sarah Wilhite leads the team with 163 kills at a solid .300 (attack percentage isn't unlike batting average, with outside hitters like MLB team leaders and middle blockers like MLB league leaders); fellow senior MB Hannah Tapp (whose twin sister Paige is also a senior MB) leads the Gophers at .359 on 223 attacks. Sophomore S Samantha Seliger-Swenson sets several, uh ... shoot, I ran out of s-words. Anyway, she's the main setter, with 462 of Minnesota's 526 assists. The Gophers are very accurate from service line, boasting a +16 on the season; Wilhite (+9, 13/4) and Seliger-Swenson (+6, 10/4) lead the team in aces, with no Gopher worse than -2. Paige Tapp and junior MB Molly Lohman have four solo blocks apiece and lead the team with 28 and 27.5 total blocks, respectively. 

After the first week of conference play, Cuttino leads the Boilers with 189 kills at .278; Adelaja is now hitting a scorching .474 on 154 attacks, good for second nationally behind Marshall's Madison Hill at .475. Evans is also clear of the .400 mark, with 61 kills at .402; Mohler adds 79 kills at .347. Evans also has a team-high 16 aces, with Stahl and Natalie Haben tied with 12; Haben's +4 leads the team from the line, with Evans (+2) and Damler (+1, 5/4) also positive. Haben also has a comfortable edge over Stahl in digs, 168 to 123, with Evans also in triple digits (108) and Damler (99) and Peters (98) nearly there. Stahl has boosted her solo block total to 15 - for perspective, Minnesota is 7th in the nation in blocks per set with 3.10 and has 11 solo blocks as a team. (Penn State leads the conference with 38 solo blocks, but their team leader, freshman MB Tori Gorrell, has only 13.) Mohler continues to lead the team with 27.5 total blocks.

Friday's match is a late starter, 8 PM, thanks to the old tee-vee (BTN, for you folks what has it), and is available as usual on WSHY 1410 AM and on CBSi's GameTracker. As a birthday present to me, the Minnesota match is on Sunday, allowing me a proper day of rest as befitting a gentleman of my age, and that one will start at 1:30 PM. It's one of two appearances the Boilers will make on ESPN2; the other is the following Sunday at Nebraska, so, uh, might want to watch this one. WSHY and CBSi will cover that match as well.

Photos by John Underwood, courtesy of Purdue Athletics

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