VB Sweeps Illini and Wildcats, Now 15-2 Overall
Volleyball picked up where it left off in Bloomington, rolling into Champaign to face an Illinois team that was maybe a little weaker than expected, followed by a visit to Northwestern. A sweep of the Wildcats wasn't a surprise, although the Boilers did lose 1-3 in Evanston last season, but the sweep in Champaign was. Purdue has won just 4 of their last 10 at Illinois, with only two of those four by 3-0 scores (the other sweep was in 2013), and a sweep of an evenly-matched team on the road is a rare thing indeed. The timing for this one was great, though, as it comes before the Good Gals face #2 Minnesota in Minneapolis to conclude their road trip.
#22 Purdue 3, #23 Illinois 0 (25-23, 25-19, 25-19)
No lineup changes: same starters, same backups, no court time for Newton, Williams or Van Zelst.
Five ties and one lead change suggest that the set that was closest in score was the one least contested, but the timing of the ties was important, as the last one came at 23-all. Illinois got the opening point, eventually pulling ahead by two and then by four, but at 6-10, Purdue ran off three straight to make it a one-point set. The hosts got two points of their own, but after trading points, a 5-0 Purdue run, including two Jena Otec aces, put the Boilers up 15-13 at the media timeout. The teams traded two-point runs after that, with Illinois taking a timeout after a Blake Mohler kill, and after a Megan Cooney attack error gave the Good Gals a three-point advantage, Illinois whittled it down to one at 19-18, drawing a Purdue timeout. Again, the teams traded two-point runs, then alternated points before the Illini drew level at 23-all. Purdue used their other timeout, then finished off the set with a Cuttino/Cuttino block of Beth Prince and an Azariah Stahl kill.
Set two was a back-and-forth affair early. After an Ali Bastianelli attack error, Illinois went up 1-3; Purdue eventually pulled ahead 7-5, with the last point on another Otec ace. The Illini scored three straight to make it 7-8; after trading points, a Purdue run got the lead back at 11-9, and strangely enough, Illinois would not get closer than one the rest of the way. They did that immediately, alternating the next six points around either one or two Illinois timeouts (the PBP says they were consecutive, but I doubt that), but it was all Purdue after that, as Illinois scored back-to-back points just twice more, well after the set was in hand. Purdue used a 6-1 run to blow the set open at 21-14, then allowed the Illini to draw within five before a Mohler kill sent the teams to the locker rooms with Purdue up 2-0 and the home crowd hoping to see a refreshed Illini squad in set three.
They got their wish, if only for half a set. Illinois jumped out to a 1-4 lead, but Purdue scored four of the next five to draw level at 5-5. Neither team led by more than two from that point through the media timeout, and in fact they were tied four straight times, at 10-10, 11-11, 12-12, and 13-13, but the Boilers broke the streak before the timeout after a Beth Prince attack error, and they added another three-point run capped by a Stahl ace that drew an Illinois timeout at 20-15. The hosts scored the next two points, then thought they had another, only to have a touch called on what became a Danielle Cuttino kill. They challenged it and lost, leaving Purdue up 21-17. After a Danielle Cuttino attack error, Illinois drew within two at 21-19, only to have Shondell challenge a call and have it overturned, giving Purdue a 22-18 lead and the serve. Prince would get a kill to make it 22-19, but three straight Boiler points finished the set and the match, 25-19 and 3-0.
Surprisingly, this was more of a defensive struggle than an offensive match, as the Boilers topped Illinois in kills, 44-37, but hit only .261, holding the Illini to .158. Purdue also led in assists (41-35), aces (6/even to 3/-2), digs (56-48) and blocks (10.0-5.0).
Danielle Cuttino was the only Boiler to hit double figures, but she needed 38 attacks to get her 13 kills and hit just .132. The focus on Cuttino opened up shots for other Boilers, with Mohler getting 9 kills at .375 and Sherridan Atkinson adding 6 at .375. Ashley Evans had 37 assists to go with 2 aces (+1), while Otec led all players with 3 aces and +2. Brooke Peters had a match-high 17 digs, and Stahl added 13 of her own, plus the only Boiler solo block of the match. Shavona Cuttino led everyone with 3.0 total blocks.
The Illinois attack was led by sophomore OH Jacqueline Quade and redshirt sophomore OH Beth Prince (the latter an Avon, IN product and high school teammate of Peters), each with 10 kills, with Quade hitting a team-high .233 and Prince hitting .154. Junior setter Jordyn Poulter had 30 assists and 8 digs, adding the only solo block for the Illini and leading the team with 2.5 total blocks, while senior libero Brandi Donnelly and sophomore DS Annika Gereau led Illinois with 11 and 10 digs respectively.
#22 Purdue 3, #62 Northwestern 0 (27-25, 25-13, 25-23)
You'd have been forgiven if, like me, you expected Purdue to roll over the Wildcats, and if all you saw was the set two score, you'd have assumed the rest of the match went that way too. In fact, it was arguably more suspenseful than the Illinois match, with the Good Gals rallying to steal the first set and then nearly collapsing at the end of the third set. Mostly due to that, no lineup changes and no change in substitution patterns this match either.
After Northwestern took the first point, Purdue jumped out to a 3-1 lead, then watched the Wildcats storm back to go up 3-6. From there, the hosts kept the pressure on, going up 7-11, then 8-14 around a Purdue timeout, and finally 11-19 after the other Purdue timeout. An Atkinson kill was followed by an Alana Walker kill, and at 12-20, the set looked out of reach ... but Purdue ran off five straight points, keyed by three blocks and a Peters ace, and burned both NU timeouts. The Wildcats responded with a 1-3 run to lead 18-23, but the Boilers had yet another run in them, capped by a Danielle Cuttino solo block that cut the lead to 22-23. Northwestern earned a set point thanks to a Symone Abbott kill, but Purdue fought it off with a Mohler kill, then got their own set point after attack errors by Gabrielle Hazen and Abbott. Abbott's kill tied the set at 25, but Purdue went ahead on a Nia Robinson attack error, and Atkinson put the set away with a kill, giving the Good Gals a hard-earned 27-25 win.
Set two was all Purdue; Northwestern kept it close through 6-5, then gave up a 4-0 run around a timeout and never drew closer than four points (at 10-6). A 4-0 run around the other Wildcat timeout made it 16-8; NU cut the lead to 16-11, but Purdue responded with three for 19-11, then pushed it to 21-12, and after a Walker kill, the Boilers drove it home, closing the set on kills by Danielle Cuttino and Mohler to cruise to a 25-13 win and 2-0 lead in the match.
After the break, Northwestern came out strong, leading 1-2, 2-5, and 5-8, but again, the Good Gals strung points together well, going up 10-8 and drawing a Wildcat timeout. NU evened it at 10, then stayed close at 12-11 before a 4-0 Purdue run burned the other timeout and seemingly had the Boilers clear at 16-11. Two Northwestern points made it 16-13, but a 4-1 Boiler run made it 20-14 ... and yet the hosts were not done. Back-to-back aces by Hazen keyed an 0-4 run that cut the lead to 20-18; the Wildcats hung around at 21-19 and 22-20, then after kills from Atkinson and Mohler gave Purdue four match points, Northwestern burned three of them with an Abbott kill, a Lexi Pitsas ace, and a Hazen solo block of Mohler. The fourth one was the charm, though, as Stahl put the last set of the match home, and Purdue had a narrow 25-23 win, capping their eighth sweep in their last nine matches.
Unlike the Wednesday match, this one was won at the net, as the Boilers had 50 kills at a sizzling .430 to 33 kills at .213 for Northwestern. Purdue also led in assists (47-31) and digs (33-19), but each team had 10.0 total blocks, and Northwestern was significantly better at the line (10/+5 to 5/even).
Atkinson earned top honors, with 13 kills at .667; she was joined in double figures by Danielle Cuttino (12 at .435) and Mohler (11 at .278). Evans had 40 assists, 8 digs and an ace (even); Peters was the only Boiler with double-digit digs (15), but she did struggle against the Northwestern service game, recording 7 return errors. Danielle Cuttino (2) and Stahl (1) had solo blocks for Purdue, with Mohler the team leader at 3.0 total blocks.
To no one's surprise, senior OH Symone Abbott led the Wildcats with 10 kills at .333. Senior setter Taylor Tashima had 29 assists and a team-high 7 digs, plus one of NU's ten aces (+1) - Abbott added 3 more (+1), and senior MB Gabrielle Hazen (Columbia City, IN) topped everyone with 4 (+2). Hazen also had the Wildcats' only solo block and paced everyone with 4.0 total blocks.
There's a lot to be said for in-conference road sweeps, especially when half of the sets require you to hold serve. The win at Northwestern probably says more about the Wildcats' ability to play anyone tough at home, but I wouldn't be surprised if the Illinois win looks better as the season progresses - that's not an easy place to play, and not many teams come away from Champaign with a 3-0 win.
Nebraska moved to 6-0 with a 3-1 win over Michigan State and a road sweep of Iowa; Penn State narrowly avoided an upset in Columbus and cruised at Maryland; Michigan State rebounded to beat Wisconsin 3-1 and stay tied for second with PSU and Purdue; Minnesota stopped Wisconsin in Madison and swept Michigan in Ann Arbor; Illinois salvaged a split with a 3-1 win over Indiana at home.
Rutgers has yet to win a set in conference play; Indiana is also winless, although they pushed Northwestern to five sets in Evanston; of the four teams at 2-4, Wisconsin is the biggest surprise, although their schedule has been amazingly tough, with their losses coming to Michigan State twice (2-3 home and 1-3 away), Nebraska (2-3 away) and Minnesota (2-3 home). It doesn't get easier for the Badgers, with Nebraska up next on Wednesday in Madison.
The Boilers remain sixth in Massey's conference ratings, behind #1 Penn State, #2 Minnesota, #5 Nebraska, #8 Michigan State, and #12 Wisconsin. At #17, Purdue is sixth of seven Big Tenteen teams in the top 25, with #24 Illinois rounding out the group.
Things get real for the Good Gals as they enter the toughest part of their schedule: at Minnesota, then home to Nebraska (in Mackey) and Penn State. Massey has all three of these as 1-3 losses. Steal one and it'll be a fine accomplishment; take two, and the possibility of a conference title might be on the table.
Tickets for the annual match in Mackey are usually cheap as beans, since they want you to fill the place and make a lot of noise like they do in places like Lincoln and Madison, you know, with the real volleyball arenas. (Holloway's adequate but tiny; Nebraska's Devaney Center seats 7,907 and they still sell it out every night.) Plus it's free if you're a student. So go!
Not much in the way of images this week (two road matches); ones shown are courtesy of Purdue Athletics