VB Nearly Drops Wisconsin, Signs 4 On NLI Day
At one point Friday evening, UW Field House was deathly silent. The visitors were leading 25-16, 25-22, 14-10, and nothing the Badgers had done to that point suggested that they were a) the higher-ranked team or b) the team that swept Purdue in Holloway a few weeks earlier.
Unfortunately, Wisconsin found the script Purdue used at Penn State: eight points later, they were up 14-18, and after squeaking out a win in set three, they blew the Boilers off the court in set four and led virtually wire-to-wire in set five. My buddy and I joke about how volleyball sometimes seems like an RPG, where the underdogs have to use up a lot of mana just to get close in one set, and when they run out, the rest of the match goes poorly. That seemed to happen last weekend, as the Boilers headed to Minneapolis to face the Gophers on the same night that head coach Hugh McCutcheon was inducted into the International Volleyball Hall of Fame. (The story is worth a read - among other things, McCutcheon coached both US men and women to Olympic medals, which I suspect is why he has been inducted into the IVHoF and Russ Rose hasn’t; AVCA honored Rose in 2007.) Minnesota made short work of the Boilers, which, uh, wasn’t the first time that happened Saturday.
Brooke Peters did not make the trip - there was a vague reference on one of the broadcasts to “illness or injury”, so I’m assuming illness. As a result, we got a preview of next year’s DS rotation, with Marissa Hornung starting both matches at libero, Julianna Reisinger slotting in as a full-time DS, and Olivia Van Zelst getting notable service action, especially against Minnesota where she served a match-high-tying 3 aces. Shavona Cuttino (1 attack) and Emma Terwilliger (2 service returns, 1 error) made brief appearances against Wisconsin. No Chen or Joiner.
#12 Purdue 2, #9 Wisconsin 3 (25-16, 25-22, 23-25, 14-25, 10-15)
Set one started as expected, with the Badgers taking a quick 1-3 lead. Purdue rallied to tie at 4 after an Atkinson kill was initially called out but successfully challenged, and then the teams split the next five points, with the hosts getting the extra one for 6-7; the Boilers took the next four to lead 10-7. We kept expecting a Wisconsin comeback, but the best they could do was cut the lead to two twice, at 10-8 and 12-10, and they would not score on their own serve after the latter. The Boilers opened it up to 17-12, forcing a timeout, then 19-13, 22-14 after the other UW timeout, and finally 24-15. A Sherridan Atkinson attack error gave the Badgers one more serve, but Jael Johnson got the next point, and Purdue had a surprisingly comfortable 25-16 win.
Set two was a bit rougher, as the hosts turned a 3-2 Boiler lead into a 3-5 deficit. Again the Boilers would rally, at 4-6 taking five of the next six to lead 9-7, then answering a Madison Duello kill with four straight to lead 13-8 and burn a UW timeout. Unlike in the first set, the Badgers were able to respond, cutting the lead to 13-12, but again it was Purdue pulling ahead to 15-12. Wisconsin steadily closed the gap, to 15-13, 16-15, and finally 17-17, forcing Dave Shondell to call his first timeout of the night. It worked, as a Caitlyn Newton kill made it 18-17 Boilers, and again an Atkinson kill was called out but reversed on a challenge for 19-17. Wisconsin would tie it twice more, at 19 and 20, but could not take the lead, and finally a 3-0 run at 20-all gave the Boilers a safe cushion and burned Wisconsin’s last timeout. At 24-21, a Dana Rettke kill held off the first set point, but the Boilers cashed in #2 with an Atkinson kill, and the visitors ran off to the locker room with a surprising 2-0 lead.
After the break, the Boilers came out hot, turning an 0-1 deficit into a 4-1 lead, then pushing it up to 8-3, forcing an early UW timeout, and finally 9-3 before the hosts woke up and closed the gap to 9-5. The Boilers managed to trade points through 12-7, when a mini-run cut the lead to 12-9. Again they traded points through 14-10, and that’s when the match turned: Blake Mohler attack error, Grace Loberg kill, timeout Purdue at 14-12. Danielle Hart kill, two kills from Loberg, Tionna Williams combining with Hart on a block of Mohler, timeout Purdue at 14-16. Williams kill, Loberg kill, and the damage was done. Still, the Boilers made Wisconsin work for it: at 16-20, they scored four of the next five, forcing a UW timeout at 19-21 and drawing within one on an Atkinson kill, and scoring three of four at 20-23 to stave off two set points, but with Atkinson serving at 23-24 for deuce, Williams put away a Sydney Hilley set, and Wisconsin finally had a set in their favor, but at 2-1, the Boilers still seemed to be in a good position.
The first omen in set four was the 1-5 run Wisconsin made at 2-2; suddenly the Boilers were down 3-7, and although they traded points through 5-8, Wisconsin broke it open, running off six more points around a Purdue timeout, and at 5-14, it looked really bad (spoiler: it was). The Good Gals did manage three of the next four to reach 8-15, but it was still too much to overcome on the road, and Wisconsin basically rode out the set, getting back-to-back points to force a timeout at 11-20, then scoring four straight after a Mohler kill for set point. Again, the Boilers would turn away the first two, this time on a Newton kill and a Rettke attack error, but Newton returned the favor, and her attack error ended the set at 14-25. At 2-2, there was no question who had the momentum, and it wasn’t Purdue.
Purdue got the first point in the deciding set, but Wisconsin scored the next four; a Purdue timeout led to an Atkinson kill for 2-4, but again the Boilers had fallen too far behind, and they would get no closer than 6-8. At 6-10, Purdue used their final timeout, but they would not score again on their serve (doing so just once in the final set), and while they did hold off match point #1 on an Atkinson kill, Loberg made swift work of the second, and a potential season-changing upset turned into a heartbreaking five-set loss.
Despite the way the last two sets went, Purdue had built enough of an advantage to hold their own in the box score, staying close in attack (63 at .209 to 64 at .235) and assists (57-59), and holding an edge in aces (2/-4/-.042 to 2/-6), blocks (15-10), and digs (68-64). Atkinson led everyone by a mile in kills, posting 26 at .339 and having only one player inside a 10-kill difference - teammate Newton, who had a career-high 17 at .270. Even Mohler had an off night, getting 8 kills but hitting just .167. Bush had 51 assists and just missed a double-double with 9 digs; Hornung’s first start at libero gave her a team-leading and career-high 21, with Atkinson getting her second career double-double with a career-high of her own at 14, while Reisinger tied her career best at 9. Mohler (1/+1/.067) and Hornung (1/-1/-.053) had the Boilers’ two aces, while Newton had two solo blocks and tied Johnson and Bush for team honors with 3.0 total blocks.
As in the first meeting, sophomore MB Dana Rettke led the Badgers, this time with 16 kills at .343; the two extra sets meant she had more company, as senior MB Tionna Williams (Fort Wayne Concordia Lutheran), sophomore OH Grace Loberg, and redshirt sophomore OH Molly Haggerty each had 12, with Williams hitting .346, Loberg .171, and Haggerty .250. Sophomore setter Sydney Hilley led all players with 59 assists and added 10 digs for a double-double; Haggerty added 11 for her own, while junior libero Tiffany Clark led everyone with 25 digs. Clark and Haggerty both had an ace and an error for 1/even, while Hilley and Rettke each had a solo block, with Williams getting six assists for a team-high 3.0 total.
#12 Purdue 0, #3 Minnesota 3 (10-25, 23-25, 19-25)
Not much to say about the first set. An Otec ace opened it, but Minnesota took the next six points, including two CC McGraw aces at Otec’s expense. Purdue never scored on their serve; they prevented the Gophers from doing so again until Samantha Seliger-Swenson took the line at 5-10; Shondell called a timeout at 5-12, and Bush stopped the run at 5-13 with a kill. The other timeout came at 7-17 and stopped a smaller run, but by then the Gophers could have just traded points. They mostly did through 10-20; after a Reisinger service error, Regan Pittman served out the set, with the last three points coming on unforced Purdue attack errors.
Set two started like the Gophers were going to get McCutcheon to his ceremony anyway, with four straight Minnesota points capped by a Lauren Barnes ace. The Boilers finally settled down, coming back with three of their own, and from there the Gophers slowly pulled away until 6-10. At that point, the Good Gals showed the resilience they displayed most of the previous night, with back-to-back aces by Van Zelst keying a 3-0 run to make it 9-10, then another 3-0 run with a Bush ace to turn 9-11 into 12-11. The Gophers took a 12-13 lead, drawing a Purdue timeout; Atkinson tied it at 13. Minnesota then made a trademark run, getting six of seven to lead 14-19 and burn the other Purdue timeout. They would extend their lead to 15-21, but the Boilers weren’t done, slowly reeling in the hosts: 17-21, 19-22, 20-23. A Johnson attack error put Minnesota on set point, but as they did against the Badgers, Purdue made the hosts work for it: a CC McGraw ball-handling error made it 21-24, then a Cleveland kill was 22-24 and Minnesota used a timeout; an Otec ace made it 23-24, and the Boilers had thoughts of an epic set win, but it was not to be, as Stephanie Samedy’s kill made it 23-25 and 0-2.
Set three had its surprises as well, but early on, it looked as though Purdue had burned all their mana and would be eased off the court, falling behind 0-2 and 2-5. They did cut the lead to 4-5 and were able to trade points through 7-8, but another Barnes ace highlighted an 0-3 run for 7-11, and the Boilers mostly forced side outs but couldn’t score on their own serve, calling timeout at 10-15 and 12-18. Once again, Van Zelst was on the line for a big rally, as the Boilers ran off six straight, drawing a Minnesota timeout at 17-18 and getting a Van Zelst ace to tie it at 18. That proved to be all they had, as an Alexis Hart kill got the hosts the serve, a Barnes ace made it 18-20, and after Atkinson got the Boilers one more chance with a kill, a Bush service error gave it back, and McGraw served out the match.
Purdue errors were the story in this match, as the Boilers actually led in assists, 36-35, but were outhit .167 to .344, with the Gophers having a small edge in kills (38-40) and a huge edge in attack errors (19 by Purdue, 7 by Minnesota). Both sides had six aces, but Minnesota had no service errors (+6, obvs) while Purdue had 8 (-2/-.037); the Gophers also led in blocks (1-4) and digs (46-52). With the scoresheet so sparse, there weren’t a lot of notable numbers on the Purdue side - Atkinson easily cleared double figures with a match-high 17 kills at .262, but no other Boiler (and only one Gopher) hit 10+. Bush led all players with 31 assists and had one ace (-1/-.250), with Otec (2/+1/.077) and Van Zelst (3/+3/.250) providing the others. Olivia’s 3 aces were the first three of her Purdue career and also the first three points she’s scored in a Boiler uniform, and .250 is the third-best mark a Boiler has posted this season, just behind two four-ace efforts from Reisinger (.300 against Wofford and .267 against Oakland). Atkinson and Johnson split the only Purdue block for 0.5 each; Hornung had a match-high 18 digs and was the only Boiler in double figures there.
Sophomore OPP Stephanie Samedy was the only Gopher in double digits, hitting a solid .321 with 10 kills; freshman OH Adanna Rollins just missed, with 9 kills at .500, and redshirt sophomore MB Regan Pittman followed her with 8 kills at .615 and added a match-high 2.0 total blocks. Senior setter Samantha Seliger-Swenson had 27 assists and 9 digs, plus one (+1) of Minnesota’s six aces, with the others coming from sophomore DS Lauren Barnes (3/+3) and freshman libero CC McGraw (2/+2). McGraw also had a team-high 12 digs, with Barnes right behind her at 10 and Seliger-Swenson and Rollins next with 9 each.
This was always going to be a rough road trip; taking two sets in Madison was a pleasant surprise, and the Boilers did make Minnesota work hard in set 2. However, their seed hopes may have been resting on getting one more top-10 win, and they’re running out of chances to do that; in the meantime, fellow seed-hunter Washington knocked off USC and UCLA on the road.
The contributions from Van Zelst were huge - serving well in those environments is a big deal, especially for someone who hasn’t seen a lot of action in her first two seasons. She’s also the only Boiler in plus territory at the line, serving .100 this season; it’s difficult to serve well and avoid service errors, but she’s done that so far.
Illinois made the biggest noise last week, holding on to beat Penn State 3-2 and move two games ahead of the pack behind Minnesota, improving their case as a possible regional host. (In volleyball, only the top 16 teams are seeded, and regional sites are determined after the first two rounds have been played; since upsets of the top four seeds are very rare, they usually end up hosting regionals.) Michigan probably dropped out of the tournament by getting swept at home by Maryland, which means just six this year from the Big Tenteen.
Minnesota has essentially clinched the conference title, facing Maryland and OSU this week and being three games up. Nebraska-Purdue is the one match of note, although Michigan could maybe squeeze back into the bracket with a win at Penn State.
Shondell landed another stellar class this year, and it’s only NLI Day - four solid players are officially 2019 Boilers. Three of them are in the top half of PrepVolleyball’s Top 100 Senior Aces, and the fourth was this year’s Miss Volleyball in Michigan.
Maddy Chinn is a 6’3” outside hitter from Notre Dame Prep in Michigan and was the aforementioned Miss Volleyball. This guy knows a lot more about Chinn and the other signees than I do, so I’ll let him tell you more:
Emma Ellis is a 6’2” outside hitter from Charlotte Catholic in North Carolina. She was a Top 50 Junior and is Senior Ace #24.
Maddie Koch is a 6’2” outside hitter from Ashwaubenon in Wisconsin. She was a Top 50 Junior and is Senior Ace #42.
Megan Renner is a 6’2” setter from Linn-Mar in Iowa. She was a Top 50 Junior and Senior Ace #45.
Ideally Renner would redshirt, putting two years between her and the incumbents (Bush and Chen), which I think is what you want for an important position like that - far enough apart that the younger player has a couple of seasons to start, close enough that when the older player graduates, you have an experienced player to replace her. Would the Boilers be able to keep three setters? If one is a walk-on, then yes. Women’s volleyball is a head-count sport, which means every player receiving aid is counted toward the limit of 12, which means you might as well give them all full scholarships. (The other type of sport is an equivalency sport, like men’s volleyball, where you can give aid to as many as you want, but not more than a certain equivalent of scholarships - for MVB it’s 3.5.)
The interesting competition will be at OH, where Purdue will return just Newton and Garrett Joiner. Cleveland may also stay at OH for another year since it’s a shorter path to playing time, with Mohler, Johnson and Cuttino returning at MB, and she could always swing back to MB if injuries required it. My guess for the OH depth chart in August 2019 is this:
2019 freshman #1
2019 freshman #2
Joiner should be 100% by then (I always assume two years for volleyball knee injuries); it’s still possible that one of the newcomers will have passed her by then. Assuming that at least two if not all three OH will be on scholarship, one of those who are will likely redshirt - three OH are in the starting lineup, so two should be more than enough in reserve.
Shondell also mentioned that more players are expected to sign later. If those are Avon’s 5’1” L/DS Ava Torrance and West Noble’s 5’9” OH Maddie Schermerhorn, then he can definitely redshirt an OH since Schermerhorn will provide additional depth; Torrance would fill Terwilliger’s role as everyone moves up with Peters’ departure: Hornung to libero, Reisinger/Otec/Terwilliger at DS, Torrance as serving specialist. They might also look for a transfer to add to the backcourt, since Torrance is short for a power-conference DS (even Carissa Damler was 5’4”). On the other hand, if there are no outgoing transfers, that would mean 19 players for next season, so there might not be playing time for a transfer. With just Mohler and Cuttino using up their eligibility in 2019, the Boilers should be loaded in 2020 - they would likely get a MB transfer to help Johnson, Cleveland (who’d probably switch back given the OH depth) and current 2020 commit Taylor Trammell.
The Good Gals wrap up their home season - barring a strong finish that earns them a seed - with Nebraska and Iowa Friday and Saturday. As is tradition, the Boilers will honor both Iowa and Purdue seniors on Saturday. They’ll finish up at Indiana and Illinois, with the return match in Champaign giving them one final chance to grab a seed and earn 2 matches in Mackey. Most brackets have them about three spots short of a seed; Friday is the best chance to make up that ground.
As per usual, you can listen for free online or on WSHY 104.3 FM. Again, note the 8 PM start time, since the Wisconsin football game is kicking off at 3:30. That’s also Senior Night, so you can send off two classes of athletes and make a full day of it.
Rerunning the feature photo courtesy of Purdue Sports, which was first run for the Iowa road match but is actually from a home match as you can tell from the uniforms.