VB Scares Penn State, Stays In 7th
There was a point last Wednesday night where it looked like Dave Shondell had spun up a top-10 team from a group that was mostly freshmen and sophomores. Late in the second set, Purdue had opened up another lead on Penn State and looked to be heading to the locker room up 2-0 for what might have been the first time since December 1987, when the Boilers swept Penn State in Russ Rose’s 9th season as coach there. For context, Purdue has beaten the Nittany Lions only once since then, a 3-2 win in 2010; they’ve taken two sets on just three other occasions, and in one 25-match stretch they took exactly one set from PSU.
But it was not to be - the Good Gals couldn’t close it out, Penn State evened the match and came back after the break to win 1-3. It was still the best performance Purdue had managed this season, and it carried over into a hard-fought 3-2 win at Iowa, keeping the Boilers at .500 in conference play and adding another big road win to their NCAA resume.
Jael Johnson played nearly the entire Penn State match, with Shavona Cuttino making a brief appearance in one set. Cuttino and Johnson split the Iowa match 3/2, although Cuttino was present in the box score and Johnson was close to posting a trillion (just two block assists). Garrett Joiner (1 assist in set 4) and Emma Terwilliger (2 serves for Mohler in set 5) played sparingly against Iowa.
#19 Purdue 1, #8 Penn State 3 (28-26, 24-26, 22-25, 21-25)
Purdue got off to a solid start, jumping out in front 3-0 on two blocks of Serena Gray and a Sherridan Atkinson kill. At 6-3, Penn State would respond, scoring the next four to take their first lead at 6-7, but the Boilers edged in front 9-8, then 10-9, and at 10-11 they got another 3-0 run with a block of Gray and kills by Grace Cleveland and Atkinson to lead 13-11; Penn State scored four straight to prompt a media timeout at 13-15. Again, Purdue responded, scoring three of four to tie it at 16. With the teams so close, one would have to go on a run, and the Good Gals did just that, getting a Caitlyn Newton kill and a Jena Otec ace to lead 20-19. Russ Rose promptly called a timeout; a Cleveland kill and another Otec ace made it 22-19, and Rose had to call his other timeout. The Boilers had another point in their run, another Cleveland kill, but at 23-19, the Nittany Lions finally responded; a kill from Amanda Phegley and two from Jonni Parker cut the lead to one, and Shondell used his first timeout at 23-22. A Nia Reed kill tied it, and another Parker kill put the visitors on set point, drawing the other Purdue timeout. The Boilers were not about to blow this opportunity, as kills from Atkinson and Otec put them on set point; Penn State returned the favor with a Reed kill and a Jenna Hampton ace. The final run would be Purdue’s, as Atkinson tied it with a kill, put Purdue on set point with an ace, and then watched as a Parker attack was out, handing a thrilling set one to the Good Gals, 28-26, and marking the first time in conference play that the Boilers had won the opening set.
Set two started like the first, with Purdue leading 2-0, Penn State tying it at 2, and the teams battling through 5-5. The Boilers then went on a 5-0 run, with a PSU timeout at 9-5, and at 10-5, it seemed like Penn State was due to respond. Purdue held them off for a while, leading by five as late as 17-12, but the Nittany Lions finally found their footing, using an 0-3 run to draw a Purdue timeout. The Good Gals got two back, surviving a challenge on a Parker attack error, but Parker keyed another 0-3 run with back-to-back aces, cutting the lead to 19-18 and burning the other Purdue timeout. Two points later, it was 21-18 Boilers, and Penn State called their final timeout. Sure enough, two PSU points cut the lead to one, and after trading points through 23-21, two more tied it at 23. Purdue would get a big opportunity after a bad set by Bryanna Weiskircher, but on set point at 24-23, they could not catch a break: a Reed kill looked out, but replay could not reverse it, and PSU got the serve. Two points later, Penn State had a 24-26 win and a 1-1 tie in the match; Purdue would be left with the knowledge that they didn’t trail until set point at 24-25, but it just wasn’t enough.
Purdue came out after the break a little slower, still scoring first but falling behind 1-3; Penn State would use short runs to lead 5-8 and 6-10, but they couldn’t expand their lead beyond four, and the Boilers slowly crept back in the match, down 9-12, then 12-14, 14-15 after the media timeout … but like Penn State in set two, Purdue just couldn’t get the lead, and at 16-17, Penn State scored two points to force a Purdue timeout. The Boilers got back to 19-20; the Nittany Lions scored two of their own to get Purdue’s other timeout. Kills from Blake Mohler and Atkinson made it 21-22, timeout Penn State; a Taylor Leath kill made it 21-23. Cleveland drew Purdue within one again, but Leath put PSU on set point, and Phegley and Weiskircher blocked Newton, giving the visitors a 22-25 win and a 1-2 lead in the match.
For the fourth straight set, Purdue opened the scoring, leading 2-0, 3-1 and then 5-2; at 6-3, a Leath attack was called long, but Rose challenged that there was a touch and won, making it 6-4 instead of 7-3. Penn State closed to within 8-7; Purdue scored three straight to lead 11-7, but Penn State responded with four straight to tie, and Shondell had to use his first timeout. A 4-1 run put the Good Gals in front 15-12; a 1-3 run closed the gap to 16-15. It looked like we’d see another close finish, but Penn State had other ideas, and at 18-16, they finally got the type of run we’d expected all night, with six straight around a Purdue timeout making it 18-22, despite a Purdue challenge on an in-the-net call on Hayley Bush, Purdue would also challenge that a Mohler attack was touched and lose that, making it 19-24. The Boilers would stave off two set points, drawing Penn State’s first time out; at 21-24, a Leath attack looked to be long, but Rose challenged it and won, giving the Nittany Lions the set and the match.
Challenges weren’t the only area in which Penn State had an advantage: they had 63 kills at .246 to Purdue’s 58 at .204 and also led in assists (60-54), blocks (13-6), digs (75-73), and aces (5/-5 to 4/-3/-.019). Atkinson returned to the top of the kill board for the Boilers, but needed 53 attacks to get her 15 kills and hit just .151, often resorting to soft shots that were returned instead of bringing the heat; Cleveland was right behind her with 14 kills at .186, while Newton had a better night with 13 at .276, and Mohler was solid as usual with 11 kills at .421. Bush tied for match honors with 50 assists. Otec’s two aces (+2/.105) were half of Purdue’s total, with Peters (1/-1/-.048) and Atkinson (1/-1/-.071) providing the other two. Mohler also had three solo blocks to lead all players, tying her for total block honors on Purdue with Johnson and Cleveland, who had the other solo blocks and split the only shared block. Brooke Peters led everyone with 29 digs, with Otec adding 11 and Marissa Hornung recording 10.
Freshman RS Jonni Parker led the Nittany Lions attack with 18 kills at .271; joining her in double figures was grad student OH Taylor Leath (13 at .220) and redshirt senior OH Nia Reed (11 at .167). Redshirt senior setter Bryanna Weiskircher had 50 of the 60 PSU assists and added 10 digs for a double-double. Parker added 8 of her own, plus a match-high 3 (even) aces, with freshman DS Jenna Hampton (1/-1) and freshman setter Gabby Blossom (1/+1) providing the others. Reed had 2 of PSU’s five solo blocks and added two assists for a match-high 3.0 total. Zionsville native and Cathedral alumna libero Kendall White was one of four Nittany Lions with double-figure digs, leading the way with 27; in addition to Weiskircher’s 10, Leath had 11 for her own double-double and Hampton also had 10.
#19 Purdue 3, #24 Iowa 2 (25-18, 20-25, 19-25, 25-22, 15-10)
As in the Penn State match, Purdue took the first point of set one in Iowa City, then settled in for a back-and-forth affair, with neither side leading by more than two until a 6-0 Boiler run ate up an Iowa timeout and put the Good Gals in front 14-10. Iowa got as close as 16-14, but a 6-1 Purdue run around the other Iowa timeout put the Hawkeyes down seven, and they could not get closer than five the rest of the way, with Atkinson providing the final point in what would be the easiest set of the weekend for Purdue.
Again in set two, it was Purdue scoring first; unlike set one, this time it was Iowa with an early run, scoring four straight to lead 3-7 and force a Purdue timeout. The Boilers responded with two points to cut the lead in half, but they couldn’t get closer than that, and the lead bounced back and forth between two and four until a 1-3 run put Iowa up five, and Purdue used their other timeout at 13-18. Iowa would lead by seven twice, 14-21 and 16-23, before a late 4-1 Purdue run closed the gap to 20-24, with the Boilers seeing off two Iowa set points. A Julianna Reisinger service error ended the run and gave the hosts a 20-25 win; once again, the Boilers would head to the locker room tied at 1-1.
In set three, it was Iowa’s turn to open, leading 0-1 early, but this time, there were no early runs - Purdue managed to inch to a 9-6 lead, but the Hawkeyes tied it on three Reghan Coyle kills. The sides traded pairs of points, then a 2-5 run made it 13-16 Iowa. Back-to-back attack errors by Taylor Louis cut the lead to one, but the Hawkeyes settled down after a timeout and used a 1-4 run to go up 16-20 and burn a Purdue timeout. Shondell would call his other timeout at 18-22 to no avail, as Purdue would not score on their serve again, and a Mohler attack error proved to be the winning point as the hosts won set three 19-25, leading 1-2 in the match.
Set four started off Purdue’s way, with the Boilers leading 2-0 and 5-2, but five straight Iowa points put the Hawkeyes in front, and at this point it started to look like the Boilers would play two hard matches and come away with no wins. Credit the Good Gals with hard work, as they tied the set at 7-7, then went up 9-8, traded points through 11-11, and used a 3-0 run to burn a Hawkeye timeout. A 2-5 run tied it at 16; Purdue got three straight to make it 19-16. The Boilers pushed their lead to four, 22-18, before a late Iowa run made it 22-21 and used a Purdue timeout. The sides traded points through 24-22, and after Iowa’s other timeout, Newton put down a Bush set to square the match at 2.
The deciding set was all Purdue at first, with two Atkinson kills spotting the visitors a 2-0 lead, then three straight points after an Otec service error made it 5-1 Purdue and drew an Iowa timeout. The Boilers led 8-4 at the turn and got a Newton kill for 9-4 before the hosts finally showed some life, running off four straight points around a Purdue timeout, and at 9-8, things were a little tight, but the Boilers would not trail in the set, pushing their lead to 11-8, then trading points through 12-10 and scoring the final three points, getting an Atkinson kill after Iowa’s final timeout to win 15-10 and 3-2.
The box score showed a mixture of good effort and areas for improvement, with the Good Gals getting 74 kills at .254 to Iowa’s 57 at .192. Purdue had edges in assists (70-56) and blocks (9-6), but Iowa had the advantage in aces (4/even to Purdue’s 3/-10 (!)/-.096) and digs (82-86). This time, Cleveland led all players in kills, as she was one of four Boilers to hit double digits, getting a career-high 19 at .246, with Atkinson (17 at a solid .359), Newton (14 at .357), and Mohler (12 at .188) all in that club. Bush had 60 assists plus one of Purdue’s three aces and managed to be error-free at the line (+1/.063); the same could not be said for her teammates, as every other Boiler who served had at least one error, including Peters, who had two aces but was even. Peters also had a match-high 26 digs, with Hornung (15) and Otec (12) also in double digits and Bush (8), Reisinger (a career-high-tying 8) and Atkinson (7) not far off. Atkinson had the Boilers’ only solo block, while Cleveland led all players with 2.5 total.
Iowa’s attack was led by junior OH Cali Hoye, who had 14 kills at .143, with help from redshirt senior Reghan Coyle (13 at .200) and senior OH Taylor Louis (13 at .146). Sophomore setter Brie Orr had 44 of Iowa’s 56 assists and added 15 digs for a double-double; Hoye had 10 digs for her own double-double, plus three of Iowa’s four aces (+2), with Louis (1/-1) adding the fourth. Hoye and Louis each had a solo block, and Louis tied Indianapolis native and Tindley alumna freshman MB Amiya Jones with 1.5 total. Senior libero Molly Kelly had a team-high 24 digs, with redshirt junior OH/RS Meghan Buzzerio (12) and freshman DS Maddie Slagle (11) making it five Hawkeyes with 10+ digs.
The Boilers are actually playing better than their record indicates; all their losses have been to teams ahead of them in the standings, and they’ve played well in a number of those matches. They’ve beaten two top-40 teams on the road in Michigan State and Iowa; here’s where the depth of the conference helps, with eight teams projected to go dancing. That means a number of opportunities for the Boilers to earn quality wins; this weekend won’t have those, but it won’t be long until Purdue is playing the top half again, and another big win like the one in Iowa City would put them in great position for some December volleyball.
The one point of concern was serving against Iowa, especially in the second set, where the Boilers had six errors and no aces on 20 serves; the six errors and -6 net were both season worsts. Purdue was fortunate to give up 10 points on serves and still win; they’ll need to do better to avoid losing a key match on serves.
This week, Minnesota’s quality win was a 3-0 sweep of Illinois. Now two games clear, the Gophers have Iowa and Nebraska at home; that would be one heck of a 10-0 in-conference run. Michigan has to win at Illinois to keep pace, while Penn State has a bye week. If the Good Gals hold serve, they could move up, as both 5-3 teams have challenging home matches, and they’re unlikely to move down: Iowa travels to Minnesota and Wisconsin, and the 3-5 teams play each other, except for MSU, who visits Illinois. Northwestern may be able to catch Michigan State sleeping in Evanston, otherwise they’ll have to wait for Rutgers or maybe Ohio State.
Maryland on the big network Friday evening, then Ohio State on the little one Sunday afternoon. Who’s spending every day in West Lafayette this weekend? This guy right here. Massey says a pair of 3-1 victories, and I see no reason to doubt his system.
As per usual, you can listen for free online or on WSHY 104.3 FM. Note the time change for the Ohio State match: with football moved to prime time, volleyball gets its own day - great for people who want to watch both, although kind of rough to be heading north three straight days. I’ll survive, I think.
Feature photo courtesy of Purdue Sports; hey, the photographers have been busy these days. They’ll get us some good shots again, give them some time.