VB Earns Split With Two Solid Matches
(Two quick notes before we get started; one is that this is basically my five-year anniversary at Boiled Sports, which I think means J and Boilerdowd are getting me a wood miniature of Brian Cardinal, so thanks to everyone for reading and commenting, and especially to those of you who specifically asked to have me provide some content. The other is that today was NLI day, but since the recaps take enough space, that'll be its own post, once there's enough info out there I can draw on.)
Purdue's next-to-last road trip featured what looked to be a thumping at Nebraska and a close win at Iowa. They got the close win at Iowa - just like the Maryland match, only with a W instead of an L - but did not get thumped at Nebraska, despite playing in front of a partisan crowd of 8420, likely the largest group to see the Boilers play this season. (Nebraska averages 8223 in an arena that seats 7907; no other school averages over 7000, despite the fact that 30 schools play in arenas with a capacity of 10,000 or more. The Devaney Center is actually just the third-largest arena in the conference, since Iowa and Northwestern play in basketball arenas, although Carver-Hawkeye's listed capacity for volleyball is 8715, just over half of its basketball capacity. Welsh-Ryan Arena has the same capacity for both sports, although it will undergo renovation this basketball season, with the capacity shrinking by about 600 seats.)
In fact, they pushed the Huskers about as much as any opponent had in Lincoln, becoming just the fourth visiting team to take a set from Nebraska and scoring 22 or more in each of the four sets. It was the kind of performance that bodes well for tournament play, and at this point the Boilers are pretty much safely in, with an RPI in the 20s and wins at Creighton, Illinois and Ohio State.
Let's get to it! There's plenty of volleyball to recap this week.
#22 Purdue 1, #4 Nebraska 3 (22-25, 25-21, 24-26, 23-25)
Caitlyn Newton started against Nebraska, which is no surprise since Shondell tends to put Danielle Cuttino at MB against strong teams, but also because it's been a while since Shavona Cuttino has played (a very brief appearance against Penn State). The most likely cause is an injury that isn't apparent but keeps her less than 100%, so I'll assume that until I hear otherwise. No subs got playing time.
Nebraska's lineup was also unchanged from the earlier meeting in Mackey: Mikaela Foecke, Kelly Hunter, Sydney Townsend, Briana Holman, Annika Albrecht, Lauren Stivrins, and libero Kenzie Maloney.
Set one did not get off to a promising start, as Nebraska scored the first two points and quickly opened up a 2-5 lead, but the Boilers responded with three of the next four to close within 5-6. The teams traded points through 8-10, when a Foecke kill put Nebraska's lead back to three. The Good Gals cut it to one after a Cuttino kill and a Holman attack error, but kills from Foecke and Albrecht restored the three-point edge, and Nebraska would take that to the media timeout at 12-15. The teams would trade points one more time, and the Boilers would even tie it at 18-18 on another Holman attack error, but Nebraska got two quick points on kills by Foecke and Jazz Sweet, and after a Purdue timeout, the Boilers would cut the lead to one three more times, but each time, the Huskers got the next point. At 21-23, Shondell used his second timeout; an Albrecht/Stivrins block of Evans gave the Huskers set point, and although a Newton kill kept the Boilers alive, Hunter and Stivrins blocked Newton on the next point for the set, 22-25.
The start of the second set was an extended exchange of points, with Purdue getting the first point and the teams splitting the first ten. Nebraska scored on their serve first, with a Cuttino attack error putting them ahead 5-6; they would lead 6-8 after an Albrecht ace, but Albrecht's next serve was an error, sparking a 5-1 Purdue run that saw Nebraska's first timeout of the match at 11-9. After trading points, two Purdue errors leveled the score at 12-12, but this time Nebraska was the team that couldn't break through; they tied it at 13-13 as well, but the Boilers responded with a two-point run, and following a Sweet kill, the Good Gals ran off four more to lead 19-14. Nebraska stopped the run with a Foecke kill, but they would score on their serve just one more time, at 24-20, and Newton would put down the next point on a Brooke Peters set to give the visitors a 25-21 set win and send the teams to the locker room tied at 1-1.
Set three turned out to be even better than either of the first two, as long as you weren't too focused on the end result. Nebraska jumped out to a quick 0-3 lead, but at 1-4, Purdue tied it up with a Sherridan Atkinson kill and attack errors by Sweet and Hunter. Nebraska took three of the next four, but a 2-0 Purdue run tied it at 7-7, and after a Stivrins kill, two Newton kills and an ace from Julianna Reisinger gave the Boilers a 10-8 lead. Again, Nebraska scored three of the next four points, and the teams traded points to make it 12-12, but again it was Purdue who broke away, with three Atkinson points (two kills and a solo block of Sweet) to lead 15-12 at the media timeout. Another 2-5 Nebraska run forced another tie at 17-17, and after yet another trade, another Albrecht ace gave the Huskers their first lead since 7-8, and Purdue had to use a timeout. Cuttino tied it up with a kill at 19-19, but a Foecke kill and a Newton attack error put Nebraska up two, and Shondell called Purdue's last timeout. Atkinson and Azariah Stahl followed it with kills, and it was Nebraska's turn to call timeout at 21-21, but the Boilers weren't done, with an Atkinson/Cuttino block of Foecke for 22-21. A Jena Otec service error evened the set, but Cuttino's solo block of Holman put Purdue on the doorstep, 23-22 ... but a Stahl attack error closed the door, and a Sweet kill seemed to lock it at 23-24. The Boilers would fend off a set point on a Stahl kill, but Albrecht put Nebraska ahead 24-25, and an Evans attack error finished the set, 24-26.
It's not uncommon for underdogs to collapse after making one good run, and it would be understandable if the Boilers had slipped in set four, especially given how Nebraska finished them off in Mackey, but while Purdue never led and only tied the set once, they put forth a great effort and nearly had a chance to force a fifth set. Nebraska jumped out to an 0-2 lead and found themselves in front 2-6, forcing Shondell to call an early timeout. The Boilers cut the lead in half, 5-7, but an 0-3 run on two Sweet kills and an Albrecht kill made it 5-10, and a 2-3 run extended the lead to six. Purdue got kills from Cuttino and Stahl to close to within four, but Foecke made it five with a kill, and a Hunter Atherton ace restored the six-point margin, 9-15, drawing Purdue's other timeout. Atherton's service error gave Purdue a small opening, and while a Holman kill put it back to six, kills from Atkinson, Evans and Stahl cut that in half, and Nebraska called timeout at 13-16. After splitting the next ten points, Purdue closed it to one on an Albrecht error and an Otec ace, and it was Nebraska's turn to use its last timeout. The Huskers got a Hunter kill for 20-22, but a Stahl kill and solo block of Holman tied it at 22-22, the only tie of the set. Unfortunately, the Boilers just couldn't get the point they needed, and Foecke would put away match point #1, giving the Huskers the set at 23-25 and the match at 1-3.
Surprisingly, it was Purdue who had a significant advantage in attack percentage (.328 to .281), despite being on the short side in kills (61-65) and assists (58-60). Nebraska made up much of the difference from the service line, with 5 aces (-4) to Purdue's 2 (-8). The Boilers had a small edge in digs, 52-49, and a bigger one in total blocks, 11.0-6.0.
Atkinson and Cuttino shared attack honors for Purdue, both recording 20 kills at .450; against many teams, outstanding nights like that would have been enough for a victory, but it wasn't the case Friday, in part because Nebraska shut down the rest of the Boiler attack, holding Stahl to 7 kills at .250 and keeping Mohler (4 at .200) and Newton (6 at .056) well below that. Even Evans could only manage 4 kills at .111. Ashley did have 44 of the 58 assists (Purdue had what I think is a season high, with 7 different players recording assists), and added a team-high 13 digs for yet another double-double, with Peters adding 11 and Otec just shy of double figures with 9. Otec and Reisinger each had an ace and a service error, with the other service errors going to Atkinson (4), Peters (2), and Evans and Stahl (1 each). Atkinson and Stahl each posted 2 solo blocks and 2 assists to share match honors with 3.0 total blocks.
The hosts shared attack honors among three players, with junior OH Mikaela Foecke once again leading the Huskers with 20 kills at .364, senior MB Briana Holman adding 15 at .417, and redshirt freshman MB Lauren Stivrins adding 8 at a match-high .500. Senior OH Annika Albrecht joined Foecke and Holman in double figures with 10 at .207, and freshman OH Jazz Sweet made it four with 10, but as in the Mackey match, the Boilers limited her efficiency, holding her to just .143. Senior setter Kelly Hunter also struggled to record kills (2 at -.111), but had a match-high 55 assists and added an ace (+1), with Albrecht (3/+1) and sophomore setter Hunter Atherton (1/-2) notching the other two. Albrecht and Foecke both recorded double-doubles, with Albrecht matching Peters with 13 digs and Foecke tying junior libero Kenzie Maloney at 10. Foecke also had the only solo block, with Stivrins managing three assists to lead the team with 1.5 total blocks.
#22 Purdue 3, #31 Iowa 2 (25-20, 19-25, 23-25, 26-24, 15-9)
Here I feel compelled to remind you that road matches in Big Tenteen volleyball are much like road games in basketball and football: the crowd makes more of a difference than you'd think, and there are enough quality teams in the conference that pretty much every road match is a struggle. Sunday's match in Iowa City was expected to be exactly like that, and with the possible exception of set five, the Boilers and Hawkeyes stuck to the script. Purdue used the same lineup they rolled out against Nebraska, with Newton starting at OH and Danielle Cuttino shifting to MB; as against Nebraska, no subs made an appearance.
The first set went according to form, although the first half didn't seem like it. The Boilers jumped out to early leads of 2-0 and 4-1, but at 5-2, an 0-4 Iowa run gave the Hawkeyes their first lead, 5-6; Purdue responded with five straight points to make it 10-6, but Iowa got three of their own, and it stayed a one- or two-point match through 12-11. A 5-1 stretch made it 17-12, and Iowa called their first timeout; after a Taylor Louis kill, the Boilers got back to five with a Stahl kill, but three straight Iowa kills cut the lead to two and drew a Purdue timeout. The Good Gals pushed it back to four on a Louis service error and another Stahl kill, then four after a Mohler attack error on kills by Stahl and Newton, and that drew Iowa's final timeout. The hosts made one final run, closing the gap to two after a Stahl service error and back-to-back blocks by Reghan Coyle and Kelsey O'Neill on Newton, but after a Purdue timeout, Brie Orr's service error put Reisinger on the line, and she served out the set, getting a kill from Newton and a Cuttino/Evans block of Claire Sheehan to give the Boilers a 25-20 win.
Set two was a bit of a surprise in that it started out like a solid Purdue effort, but one long stretch changed the set completely and nearly the match as well. The Boilers led early in this set as well, although not by as much - the first consecutive points by either side made a 4-4 tie into a 6-4 Purdue lead, and even then, Iowa used a 1-3 run to tie it at 7-7. Purdue matched it with a 3-1 run for 10-8, but Iowa tied it with another 1-3 run, 11-11 ... and that was the end of the balanced part of the set. An Evans kill and a Mohler solo block of Louis made it 13-11; a Sheehan attack error made it 14-11, and Iowa subbed in Meghan Buzzerio for Sheehan. Mohler got a kill for 15-11, Stahl's ace made it 16-11, and with an obvious Hawkeye timeout, Boiler fans could be forgiven for thinking about 2-0 and a possible sweep.
While Iowa deserves credit for the long run that followed, the Boilers did much of it to themselves: service error by Stahl, attack errors by Mohler and Stahl, timeout Purdue. Attack error by Newton, and suddenly it was 16-15. A Sheehan/O'Neill block tied it, O'Neill put the Hawkeyes in front, and a Jess Janota service ace drew the other Boiler timeout ... but Iowa still wasn't done. Back-to-back kills by Sheehan plus an Atkinson attack error finished the 0-10 run that took a comfortable Purdue lead and made it a comfortable Iowa lead. A Janota service error finally gave Purdue the serve, but Iowa took it right back with yet another Sheehan kill, and back-to-back attack errors by Cuttino (one a true error, one a Sheehan/O'Neill block) gave Iowa the first in a line of set points. Purdue dispensed with the first two on kills by Newton and Cuttino, but an Evans service error was the appropriate end to a set that the Boilers gave away as much as Iowa took it. Instead of 2-0 at the break, it was 1-1, and Shondell had some work to do to get the Boilers back on track.
Fortunately for Purdue fans, the Good Gals came out of the locker room ready to go, but Iowa was the team with momentum, and it was enough to dig the Hawkeyes out of early holes. Purdue went up 4-1; Iowa ran off five of six to lead 5-6. Purdue got four straight to lead 9-6; Iowa used another 1-5 run to lead 10-11, and after trading points, pushed the lead to 12-15 thanks in part to back-to-back Louis kills. Purdue cut it to one, 14-15 ... and then the teams split the next 10 points, with an Evans ace following that to tie the set at 20-20. But as in the Nebraska match, Purdue could not get the point they needed - they tied it at 21-21 and then again at 22-22, but after a yellow card to Iowa coach Bond Shymansky, a Janota kill made it 22-23, and after a Purdue timeout, a rare Annika Olsen kill (an Iowa overpass was spiked, but Olsen dug it well, and it dropped right between Mohler and Atkinson) made it 22-24. Purdue fended off the first set point on a Mohler/Stahl block of Janota, but Sheehan took advantage of the second set point, and at 23-25, Iowa led the match 1-2.
If you didn't get enough excitement from that set, then set four was just what you needed, featuring 13 ties and 8 lead changes. Neither side led by more than three, and after 18-15, neither side held more than a two-point lead. Purdue started off hot again, going up 4-2, but Iowa put together two 0-3 runs around an Atkinson/Cuttino block of Louis to lead 5-8. Each team followed that with two points, but the Boilers added a 3-0 run after that to tie, and a 2-1 run to lead 12-11; Iowa came right back to lead 12-13. After an exchange of points, Purdue used a 4-0 run around an Iowa timeout to go up 17-14, and another exchange made it 18-15, so now you know: no more three-point leads. A Sheehan kill and an Atkinson attack error made it 18-17, timeout Purdue; Mohler's kill put the Boilers up two, but an Orr solo block of Stahl made it one again. Cuttino made it 20-18, but kills from Orr and Sheehan erased that lead, and at 20-20, memories of the third set and fears of a possible 1-3 loss were on the minds of all Boiler fans who were watching. This time, though, it was the Hawkeyes who were found wanting: Mohler made it 21-20, and even though the hosts used kills from Sheehan and Orr to go back in front 21-22, they would not lead again. Purdue's final timeout led to a Sheehan service error and a Louis attack error, and Iowa used their final timeout at 23-22 ... but to little avail, as Atkinson earned Purdue's first set point with a kill for 24-22. O'Neill put the first one away, and Orr drew the teams level with another kill, but Cuttino brought up set point #3, and a Louis attack error gave Purdue the tying set, 26-24.
Fortunately for those of us who'd seen the Maryland match, set five in Iowa City started about the same way, but didn't finish anything like that one ... or, to be honest, any of the first four sets. Purdue got the first point for the fourth time in five sets on a Cuttino kill; Louis responded to tie the set at 1-1, but that would turn out to be the final tie of the match, and Iowa never led in the set. The Good Gals got two Cuttino kills to lead 3-1; after a Coyle kill, it was Cuttino again for 4-2, then a Mohler/Atkinson block of Louis for 5-2. Louis got a kill for 5-3, but kills from Atkinson and Stahl made it 7-3, and Shymansky had no choice but to use a timeout. It didn't help, as Stahl added another kill, and a Louis attack error made it 9-3 Boilers. Janota's kill stopped the 4-0 Boiler run, but then her service error gave the ball right back; Orr and O'Neill blocked Newton, but Newton's next attack landed, and it was 11-5. Iowa had one last run in them, on a kill and an ace from Sheehan and a Louis kill, but Shondell had a magic timeout left, and after Cuttino and Atkinson responded, Iowa's final timeout was called. Cuttino made it 14-8, and an O'Neill kill just postponed the inevitable, as who else but Cuttino took the final set and got the kill the Boilers needed; the 15-9 win was not indicative of the quality of the match to that point, but it was an excellent effort in a difficult environment, and Purdue deserved every bit of it.
Purdue had a close edge in every category Sunday, which was fitting for a match in which nearly every set turned on a couple of key points. They led Iowa in attack percentage (.257-.238), kills (69-65), assists (63-60), digs (72-67), and blocks (13.0-12.0); they tied in aces, 4-4, but Purdue had one fewer service error (-6 to -7).
If you thought Danielle Cuttino's name was all over the recap, you'd be right: she easily took top honors with a career-high 27 kills at .535; despite those gaudy numbers, Iowa's defense pretty much shut down everyone except for Cuttino and Atkinson, who hit 16 at .300. Stahl managed double figures as well, but hit only .154 on her 11 kills, while Newton (5 at -.045), Mohler (8 at .190) and Evans (2 at .100) were all kept in check. Evans tied a career-high and led all players with 60 assists, just missing a double-double by adding 9 digs. Stahl did record one, posting 18 digs, but it was Peters with team honors, recording a career-high 22. (Atkinson added 8 and Otec had 6.) Atkinson (-3), Evans (even), Otec (-1) and Stahl (-1) each had an ace, while Mohler had two of the three solo blocks, with Cuttino recording the other. Mohler and Cuttino split the team lead with 4.0 total blocks each.
Purdue's defense was at least as good as Iowa's; freshman OH Claire Sheehan led Iowa with 15 kills, but hit just .186, while junior OH Taylor Louis (14 at .085) was similarly limited; senior MB Jess Janota (11 at .258) and senior MB Kelsey O'Neill (10 at .318) found a bit more success, while junior RS Reghan Coyle (8 at .412) and freshman setter Brie Orr (6 at .667) hit better in limited opportunities. Orr led Iowa with 49 assists, while senior libero Annika Olsen led all players with 26 digs (a solid number, but not even her season high, as she had 29 against Illinois and Indiana earlier this year), and Sheehan had 13 for a double-double. Sheehan (2/-1) and Janota (2/even) were the only Hawkeyes to serve aces. Three Iowa players recorded a solo block each, but it was O'Neill who had both team and match honors, adding 7 block assists for 4.5 total blocks.
It might not seem that way, but this was an impressive weekend for the Boilers. Pretty much any road win in conference play will help their tournament seeding, and while they didn't beat Nebraska, they actually played the Huskers closer than they did in Mackey. The Good Gals have five tough matches remaining, and they'll need to play like they did this past weekend to get wins from any of those. They're favored only home to Michigan, although the MSU match is a tossup (obviously the match at Rutgers heavily favors Purdue). Take two plus Rutgers, and the Boilers are above .500 in conference play; take three, and Purdue moves closer to hosting first- and second-round matches.
On Friday, Ashley Evans became the 18th Boiler to top 1000 digs; she also has 984 assists on the season and should top the 1000 mark for the third straight season sometime this Friday. She's already seventh on the all-time assists list with 3765; she'll likely catch Mary Fischl (4116) for sixth, but will get no higher than that.
Danielle Cuttino has an outside shot at topping 1300 kills this weekend; she'd be just the 13th Boiler to reach that mark, with Samantha Mader (1310) and Annie Drews (1373) the two Boilers between that mark and the top 10. It might take some postseason action for her to break into that group, as Kim McConaha sits in tenth with 1418 kills.
Purdue's still a top attacking team, in 3rd place at .319 (with Penn State still leading the nation, now at .354). The other categories where the Boilers are a top-100 squad are kills per set (26th, 14.16), assists per set (34th, 13.16), and blocks per set (86th, 2.26). On an individual note, Evans has the highest mark, 20th in assists per set (11.31); she's also 64th in total assists. Danielle Cuttino leads the conference in points (393.5, 106th in the country) and total kills (352, 95th), and is also ranked in hitting percentage (92nd, .348), kills per set (32nd, 4.09, second in BT play to Northwestern's Symone Abbott), and points per set (36th, 4.58, second to Abbott in conference play as well). Atkinson is a tiny bit behind Cuttino in attack percentage (93rd, but also listed at .348), while Mohler makes it three Boilers (141st, .326). Shavona Cuttino is still among NCAA leaders in blocks per set (248th, 0.97).
Penn State beat Michigan State 3-1 in East Lansing and swept Rutgers to move to 13-1 in conference play, matching Nebraska, who swept Indiana on Saturday. Minnesota posted impressive home sweeps of Maryland and Ohio State to stay a game back at 12-2; the Gophers haven't lost since a 9/29 visit to Lincoln. Michigan State dropped to 10-4 but did manage a sweep at Northwestern. Illinois moved within a game of the Spartans by sweeping Northwestern and holding off Michigan in five sets, while Purdue is a game behind the Illini at 8-6, and Wisconsin is possibly the best .500-in-conference-play team in the country at 7-7 thanks to an upset loss to Ohio State in Madison and a 3-1 win at Maryland.
Rutgers remained winless after expected losses at Penn State and Michigan; Indiana stays a game in front of the Scarlet Knights after being swept at Nebraska and Iowa; Northwestern is 3-11; Iowa improved to 5-9 after their weekend split, moving into a tie with Maryland, while Michigan and Ohio State both split to move to 6-8.
The good news is that the next two matches are in Holloway; the bad news is that it's #3 Minnesota and #15 Wisconsin coming to town. Massey thinks the Good Gals should get at least a set from each team, and actually sees the Wisconsin match going five; that's likely in part due to the OSU upset mentioned above. The Badgers may be vulnerable, but the Gophers didn't look like it in Minneapolis. If the Boilers can take one of these matches, it'd be a huge win; if they get swept, well, you can only fend off so many top-25 teams, you know.
Note the early start time for Friday's match, due to the men's game against SIU-Edwardsville later the same night. Saturday's match is at the normal start time.