VB Lights Up Mackey Scoreboards in Loss to Nebraska
In case anyone was wondering how a 4-loss Wisconsin team could be a top-10 Massey team, this past week provided some of that evidence, as the Boilers wrapped up their three-match road trip at #2 Minnesota and then hosted #5 Nebraska in their annual Mackey match. As expected, neither match was good for the Good Gals, who took a set from the Huskers but were swept in Minneapolis.
The one bright side - literally - was the first shots of the brand-new scoreboards in action: the gigantic one at center court, the four large scoreboards spaced evenly around the top (what a concept!), and the ribbons near the large ones. Replays were really easy to see on the giant board, and stats were readily available on the large ones (in fact, they had the Purdue-Wisconsin game on as we entered, since it just about ran into the start of the volleyball match), since with four they can have opposing scoreboards showing the same info so that everyone can see it, as opposed to the three-scoreboard system where they'd frequently have the same data on all three ... and the ribbons were useful for info like upcoming matches, etc. It was also a nice surprise to see each player in each team's starting lineup on the large boards - remember, Holloway doesn't have any of this stuff. They won't do anything to disguise the aging, cramped benches in Mackey, but at least the people on them will have a much better view of everything.
#17 Purdue 0, #2 Minnesota 3 (17-25, 21-25, 23-25)
The Boilers pushed Minnesota in two of the three sets, but just didn't quite have enough to take one from one of the best teams in the country. Normal starting lineup, plus Caitlyn Newton seeing brief action (no attacks).
Minnesota buried Purdue in set one, jumping out to an 0-3 lead, then 1-5 and 2-7; from there, the Boilers could get no closer than 4, scoring on their serve just four times during the set. Minnesota led by as many as 9 and converted the only set point they needed, with a Stephanie Samedy kill giving the hosts an 0-1 lead in the match.
Set two was a different story. Purdue took a quick 2-0 lead on attack errors by Alexis Hart; the Gophers ran off four straight to go up 2-4. For the first time in the match, the Good Gals went on a run, with two Jena Otec aces keying a 4-0 Boiler run, but Minnesota responded again, canceling that out with a 1-5 run of their own, and once again the hosts led by two, 7-9. Unfortunately, they could get no closer than one, as they failed to tie it on three separate occasions. Minnesota threatened to pull away twice, both times forcing a Purdue timeout, and while both timeouts worked, Purdue could not produce a run, and a Regan Pittman kill put set two in the books and gave the Good Gals quite the task after the break: the prospect of taking three straight from the second-best team in the country.
Early on, it looked like they would do exactly that, or at least put one in their pocket. A Shavona Cuttino kill gave the Boilers the first point, and they quickly built leads of 4-1 and then 7-2, forcing Minnesota to call a rare timeout. The Good Gals weren't done, eventually putting the Gophers down 11-4 before an 0-4 run drew a Boiler timeout. Minnesota cut the lead to 12-10, 13-11, and finally tied it at 14-14 ... but Purdue responded with a 6-2 run around the other Gopher timeout, and after trading points, they were serving and up 21-17. The magic swiftly ran out, as Minnesota ran off five straight to lead 21-22 and burn Purdue's last timeout; a Dalianliz Rosado service error gave the Boilers hope at 22-22, and a Danielle Cuttino kill staved off match point to reach 23-24, but once again Samedy would put the final point away, giving the Gophers a hard-won 23-25 win and an 0-3 match that was maybe a little closer than the score might suggest.
The box score confirmed this, as Minnesota only had a clear edge in attack percentage (.298 to .224). Each team had 44 assists, with the Gophers getting one unassisted kill as well. Minnesota led in aces (4/+1 to 3/-3), but Purdue had the advantage in digs (54-51) and blocks (5.0-3.0).
Danielle Cuttino led the Boilers in kills with 15 at .229, as Minnesota did a fine job to contain her; Azariah Stahl added 13 at .333, with Blake Mohler also topping .300 (6 at .308). Ashley Evans had 41 of the 44 Boiler assists and added 10 digs for a double-double, although Brooke Peters had both team and match honors in the latter (17 digs). Mohler had the only solo block of the match and had a match-high 2.0 total blocks. Jena Otec had 2 (-1) of the Boilers' three aces, with Julianna Reisinger (even) recording the third.
Minnesota was led by freshman OPP Stephanie Samedy, who had 13 kills at .355, and sophomore OH Alexis Hart, who had 11 at .308. Senior MB Molly Lohman led all attackers at .636 with 7 kills, and redshirt freshman MB Regan Pittman joined the .300+ crowd with 7 kills at .312. Junior setter Samantha Seliger-Swenson, like Evans, had a double-double, with 36 assists and a team-high 15 digs - no other Gopher topped 10 - and had 2 aces (+2), with Hart (2/+1) adding the other two. Pittman and freshman OH Jasmyn Martin split the 3.0 Gopher blocks evenly between them.
#17 Purdue 1, #5 Nebraska 3 (16-25, 25-22, 14-25, 18-25)
The crowd in Mackey was a bit smaller than in recent years - just 5,289, with the last three years seeing crowds nearing the 9,000 mark - but was still well beyond Holloway's capacity, and they were rewarded with one of the better sets the Boilers have played this season. The other three, well, Nebraska is a very, very good team. Newton and Erin Williams saw time in this match, with Williams playing in three sets (2 attacks, 1 kill) and Newton in two (2 attacks, 1 error, 1 return error). Lexi Dorn has had her boot removed and is back in uniform, but did not play against Nebraska.
In one set - possibly the first - there were four challenges, three of which came in the first few points. It's the most I've ever seen in a volleyball match. Thankfully, we were treated to replays each time, so we generally had an idea of the accuracy of the call, but honestly, at least one of the challenges should have been dismissed simply because the play was too close to call. (If memory serves, that one was a Purdue challenge, and the call was overturned ... so for a change, Purdue got an officiating break.)
Purdue actually got off to a great start in set one, using a 7-1 run to build a 9-5 lead. Nebraska steadily chipped into the lead, catching the Boilers at 13-13 ... and then they poured it on. An 0-4 run put the Huskers up 13-15 and used one Purdue timeout; a Sherridan Atkinson kill stopped that run, but NU scored the next seven points, and at 14-22, it was effectively over, with the substitutions of Newton (for Atkinson) and Williams (for Shavona Cuttino) indicating garbage time. Williams and Mohler would get kills to round out the Boiler scoring, but a Lauren Stivrins kill marked the end of set one, and at 16-25, it served as an omen ... just not for set two.
As in the opener, Purdue led by four early, 8-4; unlike the opener, Nebraska did not catch up right away. In fact, after they cut the lead to one at 11-10 and then 12-11, a 3-1 run made it 15-12, and the Boilers pushed it back to four at 18-14 after an Atkinson ace. The visitors weren't done yet, using an 0-3 run to burn a Purdue timeout. The Good Gals stretched it back to 20-17 after a solo Mohler block and an Azariah Stahl ace, but Nebraska closed to 20-19; a Mohler kill put Purdue up two, but kills by Mikaela Foecke and Briana Holman tied it at 21. A Hunter Atherton service error and another Foecke kill saw a 22-22 tie, but that would be the last: Danielle Cuttino made it 23-22, Atkinson forced set point at 24, and then finished the set at 25-22. The teams went into the break even at 1-1, but they would not be on the same footing afterward.
The Boilers did manage to take a lead in set three, 4-3, but that was it. Nebraska led 5-9, 8-13, and 9-18, and that was that. A 3-0 run to cut the lead to 13-19 did draw a perfunctory timeout from the Huskers, but they ran off the next four to kill whatever momentum the Boilers had built, and after a Kelly Hunter service error gave Purdue its final point at 14-23, a Holman kill and a Foecke ace finished the job.
The 14-25 loss looked like a sign of a team that had given all they had and just didn't have enough left to challenge a top-five team, and indeed, the fourth set played out that way, as Nebraska never trailed, running out to an 0-5 lead and never looking back. Purdue would close to three, at 7-10, 9-12 and 11-14, but they could not get beyond that point, and after an Atkinson kill fought off match point #1, Annika Albrecht drilled home #2, giving the Huskers a well-deserved win, 18-25 and 1-3.
This time, the box score favored Purdue, as Nebraska's domination did not show up in the numbers. In large part, this came from their insistence on feeding freshman OH Jazz Sweet (6 kills in 22 attacks at .091) and attacking with senior setter Kelly Hunter (1 kill in 9 attacks at -.222). Nebraska outhit Purdue, 57 kills at .287 to 43 at .134, but take away Sweet and Hunter, and the visitors had 50 kills at .371, which was a much better reflection of their offense. The Huskers had a clear edge in assists (54-40), but the teams were even at the line (3/-4) and in digs (49 each), and Purdue actually outblocked Nebraska, 10.0 to 7.0.
Atkinson led the Boilers with 15 kills, but hit just .184, and Danielle Cuttino fared even worse, with 14 kills at .087. With Stahl (3 at -.125) and Mohler (5 at .214) also shut down, only Shavona Cuttino (4 at .571) found regular success, and that was on limited attacks. Evans had another double-double (36 assists, 12 digs), and Peters led everyone in digs again (14). The aces were split among Atkinson (+1), Otec (-1) and Stahl (+1), while Danielle Cuttino had 2 solo blocks, with Mohler getting the other and leading all players with 3.0 total.
Nebraska's attack was led by outstanding junior OH Mikaela Foecke, who shook off a bloody nose to register 21 kills at a sizzling .476, both marks top on the team. Senior OH Annika Albrecht added 13 kills at .321, with redshirt freshman Lauren Stivrins rounding out the top hitters with 7 kills at .312. Hunter matched Evans' double-double, with a match-high 44 assists and a team-high 13 digs, with junior libero Kenzie Maloney one back at 12. Albrecht (2/+2) and Foecke (1/even) had the Nebraska aces, while senior MB Briana Holman had the Huskers' only solo block and matched Stivrins with 2.0 total.
This was about what you'd expect from a team that just isn't ready to challenge top-five competition; there's no shame in losing handily to two of the best teams in the country, and another loss is likely coming Friday when Penn State rolls into town. There's still time for the team to improve - after all, we're not even halfway into conference play - but this did serve as a reminder that for all the strength in the program that Dave Shondell and his staff have built, there are other schools out there that are significantly stronger.
Nebraska dropped their first conference match of the year at Wisconsin on Wednesday, falling to 7-1 as the Badgers moved to 4-4. Penn State joined them with impressive home wins over Michigan State (3-1) and Michigan (3-0). Minnesota swept Iowa to move to 6-2, while Michigan State crushed Rutgers for the same mark, and Illinois swept both Ohio State and Maryland to join the 6-2 crowd, as Purdue is now alone at 5-3.
Rutgers took their first set in conference play against Michigan, but still dropped to 0-8; Indiana took one set at Iowa but was swept at Wisconsin. Michigan might be the best of the 3-5 teams, with their only home loss being an 0-3 sweep at the hands of Minnesota.
The Good Gals are still the sixth of seven top-25 conference teams: Penn State, Minnesota and Nebraska remain 1-2-5 (with Stanford and Texas the current #3 and #4); Wisconsin moved up four spots to #8, with Michigan State falling 3 spots to #11. Purdue drops two places to #19, and Illinois moved up three to #21, with Michigan (#29) and Iowa (#30) still lurking just outside the top 25, and Ohio State (#33) not far behind.
It was the best of opponents, it was the worst of opponents: Purdue's string of top-five opponents ends with #1 Penn State in Holloway on Friday, then the Boilers get a break with #240 Rutgers coming to town on Saturday. Massey still has the PSU match as 1-3, and of course Rutgers is still Rutgers, but that doesn't mean you start the match up 10-0 - Shondell's teams have had trouble in the past against weak opponents, so they would do well to keep their focus for that match, especially since there will be a return match on 11/15 at Rutgers ... and also because the Boilers will start a four-match road trip the following week, traveling to Ohio State, Maryland, Nebraska, and Iowa. While that ought to be a 3-1 trip, you can never be sure, so pick up the easy wins while you can get them.
Photos from the Nebraska match courtesy of Purdue Athletics, taken by John Underwood