VB Wins Wyoming Invitational, Moves to 6-0

VB Wins Wyoming Invitational, Moves to 6-0

While the football team was nearly working miracles in Indianapolis, the volleyball team was two time zones away, looking to cap a second straight perfect weekend with a win in Laramie against host Wyoming. The Good Gals were able to hold off the Cowgirls, but it wasn't easy, as they fell behind 0-1 and 1-2 before forcing a fifth set and cruising to victory in it. The Boilers moved up to #17 in the AVCA Coaches Poll and 16th in Massey's ratings: let's take a quick look at how that happened and what's up next for the undefeated women.

Purdue 3, Jacksonville 0 (25-14, 25-14, 25-19)

Wise money would have expected Purdue to encounter little resistance in their first two matches over the weekend, and indeed it played out that way. On Friday, the Boilers rolled over Jacksonville in straight sets. The Dolphins came in 2-1, but their wins were against Lamar and Bethune-Cookman, and their loss was at host and #191-ranked Clemson - as expected, Jacksonville struggled in all three matches, with sweeps at the hands of Purdue and Eastern Michigan and a 1-3 loss to Wyoming.

The Good Gals took care of business easily, as they never trailed and were tied on just two occasions in the third set. Purdue had a double-digit lead in each of the first two sets, and when Jacksonville fought back from 14-11 to tie at 14-14, they went on an 8-2 run to burn both Dolphin timeouts and effectively put the match out of reach.

With a score like that, you'd expect the box score to be heavily weighted in Purdue's favor, and once again you'd be right. Purdue played about as well as you could ask, with advantages in every area, outhitting the Dolphins .523 to .179. Four Boilers hit .600 or better, led by Sherridan Atkinson (13 kills at .688) and Blake Mohler (6 kills at .750), while Caitlyn Newton (3 at .429) and Azariah Stahl (7 at .417) topped the .400 mark. Ashley Evans matched Jacksonville's entire team with 30 assists and added a match-high 3 aces (+2), with Atkinson (2, +2), Mohler (1, even), and Stahl (1, -1) serving aces as well. The Good Gals didn't need much in the way of digs, with Evans and Stahl tying for team honors at 6; in part it was because they had 10.0 blocks, led by Atkinson and Mohler (3.0 each) and Danielle Cuttino (2.0, both solo). 

Three Dolphins had a team-leading 7 kills: senior OH Cristina Finan, freshman MB Hannah Marchand, and sophomore OH Mallory Mattingly. Finan had arguably the best attack day of anyone on either side, with no errors on 10 attacks for a .700 hitting percentage. Junior Lauren Petersen and sophomore Alleah Stamatis split setting duties, with Stamatis getting 15 assists and Petersen adding 12. Marchand and Mattingly had 1 ace apiece, but both were below 0 at the line, as Jacksonville had 7 service errors for a -5 to the Boilers' +1. Senior MB Jessica Armstrong joined Finan and Mattingly with 3 digs each, while Marchand led all players with 3 solo blocks, giving her 3.0 of the team's 4.0 total. Yorktown, IN freshman OH/DS Kendall Murr saw limited action, starting the first set but subbing out before registering anything in the box score.

Purdue 3, Eastern Michigan 0 (25-14, 25-15, 25-19)

In the first of two Saturday matches for the Good Gals, a sparse crowd saw them dispatch Eastern Michigan in straight sets; the #188-ranked Eagles posed a stronger challenge, tying the Boilers on five occasions and even taking the lead once in the second set, but Purdue extended their set-winning streak to 15 as they held EMU at bay.

The Boilers were not challenged in set one, leading by as many as 12 before getting a Stahl kill to close the set, but set two was a different story, at least for the first few points. Eastern Michigan struck first, leading 0-1 and 1-2, and were as close as 9-9 after a Riley Taylor ace, but a Danielle Cuttino kill sparked a 7-0 Boiler run that burned both EMU timeouts and gave Purdue a safe 2-0 lead in the match. The Eagles mounted a significant comeback in set three, cutting a 17-10 lead down to 19-17, but they could get no closer than two, and a 4-0 run at the end preserved the Boilers' perfect record.

Purdue didn't have as much of an edge in the boxscore this time, but it was still sizable, as they outhit EMU .442 to .165. Danielle Cuttino took top honors for Purdue with 15 kills at .444; again, four Boilers topped .600, five if we count Carissa Damler's 1.000 performance on one kill (the fifth of her career), led by Mohler (9 kills at .667) and Shavona Cuttino (3 kills at .750). Evans bested her opposition again, with 35 assists to 27 for the Eagles, but this time service honors were shared by Damler (+1), Jena Otec (+1), and Stahl (+2), all of whom recorded two aces; Evans (+1) and Julianna Reisinger (+1) had the other two. Mohler and Brooke Peters were -1 each, but that still meant an overall 8, +4 day for Purdue, a significant improvement over years past. Damler and Stahl had 8 digs each, with Evans adding 7, and Shavona Cuttino took block honors, with the only solo of the match and a match-high 3.0 total.

Junior OH Jordan Smith led Eastern Michigan with 10 kills, although the Good Gals held her to .208; she added 2 aces (even) and 7 digs for team honors in all three categories. Sophomore S Riley Taylor, a Perry Meridian graduate, led EMU with 12 assists, while redshirt junior S Mallory Rajewski added 11. Taylor matched Smith and the Boilers' best with 2 aces (+2), while freshman OH Franki Strefling added 5 digs. Senior MB Kelly Ferguson, a transfer from Austin Peay, led the Eagles with 1.5 blocks.

Purdue 3, Wyoming 2 (18-25, 25-19, 22-25, 25-20, 15-7)

Wyoming finished the weekend at #135; nonetheless, they were likely to break the Boilers' set streak, if for no reason other than having home court. They'd fought #50 Portland to a 2-3 loss in Laramie the week before, but also dropped a 1-3 match to Abilene Christian, so anything other than a 3-1 Purdue win seemed unlikely ... but the Cowgirls were unchallenged in the first set, and after wresting an exciting set three from the Good Gals, the win streak looked as vulnerable as the set streak had become. It wasn't until the fourth set was in the books that Purdue fans were able to relax a little (of course if you were watching the football team as well, that had to help), and once the fifth set was underway, the outcome was not in doubt.

The two teams apparently swapped roles in set one, as Wyoming raced out to an 0-3 lead, then deflected each Purdue attempt to come back and steadily widened the gap. After the Boilers closed to within 1 at 6-7 and then 7-8, an 0-4 Cowgirl run made it 7-12, and the Boilers weren't closer than 4 the rest of the way. Set two was more what we would have expected, with Wyoming leading 0-1 and tied at 2, 7, and 8, but Purdue pushed a 10-9 lead to 14-9, and at 18-11 it should have been over. Instead, the hosts rallied again and again, closing to within three at 20-17, but they could not get consecutive points after that, and the Boilers scored the final three points to even the match.

Set three was easily the most dramatic of the season, featuring 10 ties and 4 lead changes. Once again, Wyoming scored first, but this time Purdue had an early rally, going up 5-2 before the Cowgirls tied it at 6 and 7. Purdue led twice more by two, but couldn't extend their lead, and after an Ashley Evans kill to make it 12-11, Wyoming scored consecutive points for the third straight time, with a Jackie McBride ace drawing a Shondell timeout at 11-13. Four points later, it was 15-13 Purdue and time for a Wyoming timeout; a 1-5 run gave the Cowgirls a two-point lead and burned Shondell's last timeout at 16-18. Purdue tied it at 18 and 19, but Wyoming scored the next four points, and Purdue could draw no closer than 22-24, with an Evans service error giving Wyoming the set, 22-25.

Set four turned out to be much like set three, with the Boilers possibly facing a match point for the first time this season ... but despite 9 ties and 5 lead changes, it didn't work out that way. Wyoming made it four straight sets with the opening point and led 1-2 as well, but the Boilers fought back to lead 4-2, and from that point, neither team could manage more than a two-point lead until Purdue broke a 12-12 tie with three straight to lead 15-12. After a Wyoming timeout, the Cowgirls got three straight of their own, but Purdue came back with two, and while the hosts would draw within one twice more, at 17-16 and 19-18, the Good Gals used a 5-0 run to seize control, and a Mohler kill gave the Good Gals the much-needed win in set four, 25-20.

There was no such drama in set five. Wyoming served first, but Purdue went up 3-0, and after a Marissa Harmon kill got the Cowgirls on the board, Purdue scored four straight, and at 7-1, the Cowgirls were in bad shape. They drew to within four twice, at 9-5 and 10-6, but the Boilers made it 13-6 and then closed the match with kills by Mohler and Danielle Cuttino, earning a hard-won 3-2 victory.

The Boilers made it three straight matches over .300, but didn't have nearly the advantage they'd enjoyed in the first five, outhitting Wyoming just .322 to .250. However, the five-set match boosted individual stats to season-high levels for many players. Danielle Cuttino racked up 23 kills at .294, while Atkinson added 22 at .368. Mohler took accuracy honors with 11 kills at .474, and Evans added 8 kills at .400 on 15 attacks, a number she'd topped only once since her freshman non-S season (16 at Iowa in 2015). The senior setter recorded 58 assists and also led Purdue in service honors with the only 2 aces the Boilers managed. Peters led three Boilers in double figures with 15 digs, matching the number she'd hit twice before in 2017 (against Oral Roberts and Alabama), with Stahl adding 14 and Otec 11. Seven Boilers had at least 0.5 blocks, but none had a solo; Shavona Cuttino took team honors with 2.5 total.

Junior OH Emily Lewis led Wyoming with 17 kills at .191, adding 2 aces (-1), 6 digs, and 1.0 blocks. Redshirt freshman MB Jackie McBride was the other Cowgirl in double figures, with 11 kills at a sizzling .625. Freshman S Marissa Harmon had 41 of Wyoming's 47 assists and added 8 digs, while senior DS Lily Austin matched Lewis' 2 aces (+1) and added 8 digs of her own; sophomore libero Madi Fields led the team with 14 digs. Sophomore OH Halie McArdle posted the only solo block of the match and added 3 assists to tie junior MB Reed Copeland for team honors with 2.5 each.

Overall thoughts

Struggling against Wyoming was to be expected, even for an experienced team like the Boilers: road matches are almost always more difficult than neutral-site games, as anyone who's visited Holloway can tell you. Struggling on the service line was a disappointment, if not a surprise: -7 was their worst performance of the year and actually dropped them into the negatives overall, from +1 to -6. On the attack, 15 non-block errors was also a season high, although the five-set match meant that total numbers would be distorted a bit (the Boilers had only been negative at the line twice, -2 in their first two matches, so scale wasn't a problem with that stat). 

Still, they took control of the key fourth set when they needed to, and they ran the hosts off the court in the fifth. That's about the best you can expect in that situation, and Purdue deserves credit for that. Furthermore, despite the errors, the Boilers still hit .322; their season average dropped to .368, good for third in the country behind Penn State (.469) and USC (.383). Danielle Cuttino and Mohler are both hitting over .400 (.451 and .425 respectively), which is a good sign for the attack moving forward. Even the service line has a bright side, as Purdue's 1.89 aces per set is actually 34th in the country; if the Good Gals can drop their service errors a little further, that long-time weakness might become a strength.

Next up

Purdue has one more road trip before returning to the friendly confines of Holloway: this one will be significantly more challenging than last week's. The Good Gals travel to Lawrence, KS for the Kansas Invitational, facing top-25 teams Kansas (#12) and Creighton (#9), with #144 Belmont rounding out the tournament. Massey sees this as a 1-2 road trip, with Purdue likely to sweep the Bruins but come away with 1-3 losses in the other matches. You should never count a Dave Shondell team out - look no further than last year's stunning 3-2 comeback win at eventual #2 Stanford for evidence - but the Boilers will likely have to step up their game one more notch to bring home a quality W. 

There is, as of yet, no information on how to follow the matches; one would hope a power-conference host would have the matches available somewhere. At worst, I'd expect a stat tracker from Sidearm Sports like the one you saw for this tournament; they're the company that does Kansas sports and a lot of other schools as well. (No doubt Delany was offered a pile of money for the company that Purdue uses. It ... isn't worth the money.) I'll update when we get links for you.

UPDATE: Like last week, you play the hosts, you're on TV; play the other teams, well, good luck. Here's the schedule: note that the morning match against Creighton will be worth taking a long lunch for, and hey, if you do get reception in Ross-Ade (that'd be a first), you might give Purdue-Kansas a look. All ratings from Massey through Wednesday matches.

Friday, 11 AM: #18 Purdue vs #10 Creighton - audio, stats (yep, it's Sidearm, same link for all three matches)
Friday, 8 PM: #18 Purdue at #9 Kansas - ESPN3, audio
Saturday, 1 PM: #18 Purdue vs #149 Belmont - audio

Feature photo by John Underwood, courtesy of Purdue Athletics, as mentioned last week. Hey, you didn't get out to Wyoming either, you can't expect the fine photographers to make the trip for you.

Drinking the Kool-Aid after a Loss? Glug glug.

Drinking the Kool-Aid after a Loss? Glug glug.

Brohmball, Game 1: WOO

Brohmball, Game 1: WOO