VB Outlasts Iowa On Senior Night
For a good bit of Saturday night, it looked like Purdue was going to have the same outcome in volleyball’s Senior Night that football did: the match against Iowa went five sets, just as the previous meeting in Iowa City did, and while the Good Gals didn’t go to overtime, they came close enough against an opponent that played much better than their conference record would have suggested.
But they held on to win, finishing their home season at 14-4, their best record since 15-1 in 2011 (plus two home wins in the NCAA tournament, which I assume were in Mackey and not Holloway). One more road trip remains, at Indiana and Illinois, and then Sunday the Boilers will find out their destination for their next two matches, which almost certainly won’t be Mackey - they likely need one more quality win, and getting a W in Champaign is a lot to ask.
Brooke Peters returned to the lineup Friday, but was at DS with Marissa Hornung starting at libero. With Hornung at libero Saturday as well, and given Peters’ level of play the last few matches (lower than the standard she’d set), it’s almost certain Brooke’s not 100% yet.
As is tradition, Erin Williams started on Saturday alongside Peters and Sherridan Atkinson, the other two Boiler seniors. She played well into the match before Jael Johnson returned. Williams and Shavona Cuttino both played briefly against Nebraska (Cuttino had a kill, one solo block and two block assists; Williams had a block assist), and Olivia Van Zelst came in to serve against Iowa. No other subs made an appearance.
#13 Purdue 1, #6 Nebraska 3 (22-25, 20-25, 25-22, 17-25)
Set one did not start well - the defending NCAA champs scored five straight to turn an even 4-3 set into a 4-8 Nebraska lead. Two more pairs of points eventually made it 7-13 and drew a Purdue timeout; after that, we saw the first sign of the team that pushed Wisconsin to five, as the Good Gals finally scored on their own serve, cutting the deficit to 10-13, then 12-14, and then adding another five straight to lead 17-15 and burn an NU timeout. An Atkinson service error stopped the run, but she countered with a kill to make it 18-16; the visitors tied it at 18, and then Blake Mohler’s kill made it 19-18. The Huskers were due for a run, and sure enough, it came with Nicklin Hames at the line, as an ace from her keyed an 0-6 stretch that burned Purdue’s other timeout and put the Boilers on the wrong side of set point. A solo block by Cuttino and a Lexi Sun attack error drew Purdue within three, and an Atkinson kill made it 22-24, but after Nebraska’s last timeout, Sun put away set point #4 and the visitors were up 0-1.
Purdue played Nebraska evenly for almost all of the second set, with neither side leading by more than two through 18-17 (14-16 was the one two-point lead in that sequence; Purdue scored two straight to tie) and neither team able to run off more than two in a row; once again, a Nebraska run was the key, as the next six points were NU points, burning both Purdue timeouts and putting the Boilers in an 18-23 hole. An Atkinson kill made it 19-23, but the Good Gals would score just once more, on a Mohler kill, and give Nebraska their final two points on service errors, putting the Huskers up 0-2 going into the break.
The Boilers played much better in set three, getting a 3-0 run to lead 7-4 and draw an NU timeout. At 8-6, they added another three points for 11-6, their largest lead of the match, and while the Huskers closed the gap a little, when they narrowed it to 14-12, a 5-2 run put the Boilers up five again, and NU had no choice but to call their remaining timeout. Sure enough, here came the late run, a 2-6 stretch around a Purdue timeout that made it 21-20, but this time a Nebraska service error ended the run, and the Huskers were the ones who couldn’t close the set; a Lauren Stivrins kill would be the last point they earned, for 22-21. Atkinson’s kill made it 23-21, and although she’d give NU one more point with a service error, a ball-handling error on Mikaela Foecke canceled that out, and Mohler put set point away to draw Purdue within 1-2.
Unfortunately, the Boilers looked spent, and it didn’t take long for Nebraska to take advantage: at 2-1, they scored five straight, the last two on aces from Sun to Julianna Reisinger that forced Dave Shondell to sub in Jena Otec for her. Purdue managed two small runs, 2-0 and 3-0 around an 0-3 run and their first timeout to make it 7-9, but Nebraska continued to build momentum, leading 7-11, 8-13, 9-16 after Purdue’s last timeout, 10-20, and finally 11-22. The Boilers managed one final run, four straight points that drew a Nebraska timeout, but they simply didn’t have enough left, and after two Foecke kills put NU on match point, the Boilers staved off two but could not avoid the third, with an Atkinson service error the deciding point.
Oddly enough, Purdue and Nebraska were relatively even in the box score, with one glaring exception that you’ll see shortly. Attack percentage was basically even (.208 to .209), kills slightly in NU’s favor (52-55), assists slightly more (48-53), and digs a bit more than that (60-67), with blocks favoring the home team (13.0-9.0). The exception: aces. Nebraska had 11 and were a whopping +6, while Purdue had just 1 and was -10 from the line (-.118), matching the -10 they posted in the five-set match in Iowa City.
As per usual, Atkinson led the Boilers with 20 kills, 7 more than anyone on either team, but hit just .224 against the Huskers’ solid defense. Mohler was the other Purdue player in double figures, with 13 kills at a match-high .435. Atkinson also had 10 digs for a double-double, as did Bush (45 assists, 10 digs), with Hornung matching a career high with 21 (plus 1 kill, a nice trick for a libero given the restrictions on how they can attack) and Otec adding 10. Hornung also had the only Purdue ace of the night (-1/-.056). Cleveland led all players with 3 solo blocks and 5.0 total; Mohler (2.5) and Cuttino (2.0) had one solo each.
Nebraska’s attack was led by sophomore OH Lexi Sun, who had 13 kills at .216; she was joined by senior OH Mikaela Foecke (10 at .158) and sophomore MB Lauren Stivrins (10 at .286). Freshman setter Nicklin Hames tied Bush with 45 assists and had a double-double as well with 13 digs; senior libero Kenzie Maloney had a team-high 20, while Foecke and Sun also posted double-doubles by adding 11 digs each. Sun (+3) and Hames (+2) each had 3 of Nebraska’s 11 aces, with Maloney (2/even), Foecke (2/+1), and Stivrins (1/+1) serving the rest. Stivrins added 2 solo blocks for a team-high 3.0 total; freshman MB Callie Schwarzenbach (2.5) and Sun (1.5) had one solo each.
#13 Purdue 3, #39 Iowa 2 (22-25, 25-23, 25-20, 22-25, 15-11)
Purdue’s senior-heavy lineup got the first two points of set one, one off a kill by Williams, and then things went about how they did in Iowa City: Iowa got the next two points, then the longest run in the first part of the set was an 0-3 run that turned 6-5 into 6-8. At 9-11, Purdue got the first extended run, a 6-0 burst that burned an Iowa timeout and put them up 4. That ended on an Otec service error, but the Boilers seemed to have a safe lead. Instead, Iowa chipped away at it: 16-13, 17-15, 18-17, and then at 19-17, the Hawkeyes got their longest run, an 0-4 stretch that burned both Purdue timeouts and put the visitors in front. There they would stay, as Purdue could not score on their own serve, and three attack errors down the stretch (two unforced by Williams, then a Reghan Coyle/Hannah Clayton block of Cleveland on set point) gave Iowa the opener, 22-25.
Set two started with the same quality that we saw in Madison: a 4-0 run for the Good Gals ending with a Hornung service error, two quick side outs, and a 3-0 run that drew an Iowa timeout at 8-2. The timeout helped, as the Hawkeyes went on a 1-4 run that cut the lead in half, but Purdue got most of it back with a 3-1 run for 12-7. Three straight Iowa points drew a timeout from Shondell; after an Atkinson kill, the Hawkeyes scored twice more to close within one. Two more kills from Atkinson made it 15-12; a Coyle kill and a Mohler attack error made it 15-14. Serving to tie, Halle Johnston committed an error instead, and a Peters ace made it a three-point lead; back-to-back side outs kept it there, but Iowa ran off the next four to lead 18-19 and burn Purdue’s remaining timeout. An Emily Bushman service error tied it, but Brie Orr’s kill put the visitors ahead 19-20. Fortunately, the Good Gals had one more run left in them, keyed by a pair of Taylor Louis attack errors, and Iowa used their final timeout but saw the Boilers get one more after that in a 4-0 stretch that made it 23-20. At 24-21, a Hornung service error gave the Hawkeyes another chance, and they’d get within one a final time on a Coyle kill, but Atkinson took the next point and the Boilers had a 25-23 win, heading to the locker room tied at one.
Play was just as even after the break: although Purdue led 4-2, Iowa got three straight to take the lead, the Boilers responded with a pair of points, and that set the tone for almost the entire set. In fact, the first timeout was taken by Purdue after a 1-3 run made it 15-17; Purdue got a kill from Johnson and two from Newton to lead 18-17. The teams traded points through 20-20, and then the Boilers finished off the scoring, burning Iowa timeouts at 22-20 and 23-20 and getting the last two points on a Cleveland block of Clayton and a Bush/Mohler block of Louis. Up 2-1, it looked like Purdue might escape in four sets and start preparing early for Indiana.
Iowa did not have that version of the script; Louis got three straight kills for an 0-3 start, and then a woeful sequence on both sides, a 3-4 run featuring an Atkinson service error and five attack errors between the two teams, made it 3-7. The Boilers closed to 5-7, then 7-8, but could not get the tying point for the longest time - Iowa couldn’t push their lead over three, but Purdue couldn’t catch them either. Finally, after a Purdue timeout at 14-17, the Good Gals made it 16-17 on a Bush ace, then after a Coyle kill gave the Hawkeyes a two-point lead, Newton cut it to one and Atkinson provided back-to-back kills to put the Boilers up 19-18 and draw an Iowa timeout. The teams traded points for 20-19 and two-point runs for 22-21, but the Boilers were stuck on 22 as Iowa closed out the set, burning Purdue’s other timeout and using a Coyle kill for the winning point. It would be five sets once again.
An Atkinson kill started the final set; a Louis kill tied it at 1 and an Atkinson attack error made it 1-2, despite a Shondell challenge. Another Atkinson-Louis sequence made it 2-3, and Sherridan followed that with yet another kill to start a 3-0 Boiler run that included a Shondell challenge that was successful. Iowa took the next two points, but Purdue ran off three straight to lead 8-5 and get a timeout from Iowa at the switch. It turned out to be too late, as a 1-3 run drew them within one at 9-8 and again at 10-9, but they would not tie. The Hawkeyes used their remaining timeout at 13-10, then seemed to make a silly challenge at 14-10 just to get another timeout, as the call was confirmed and the Boilers were on match point. Naturally, it was another service error, but Mohler and Cleveland blocked a Coyle attack on the next point, and Purdue finally had the win they needed.
The Boilers were not at all sharp on the attack - they had 74 kills at .288 to 67 at .225 for Iowa, but Purdue had 21 attack errors, 19 unforced. Similarly, each team had 4 aces, but the Boilers were -5 (-.046) while Iowa was just -2. Purdue did have a slight edge in assists (65-63) and bigger advantages in blocks (9.0-2.0) and digs (85-74).
The seniors acquitted themselves well on their final night in Holloway. Atkinson did her usual on the attack with a match-high 19 kills at .340, adding an ace (even), 1 solo block (1.5 total), and 9 digs, while Williams had 6 kills at .333 with a block assist and two digs, and Peters had 3 assists, 1 ace (-1/-.059), and 7 digs. Mohler had an excellent night on the attack as well, with 17 kills at .375, and Cleveland also hit double digits with 14 kills at .160 and added 2 solo blocks and a match-high 2.5 total. Bush had 54 assists and 9 digs plus one ace (+1/.063), and Hornung tied for match honors with 26 digs and had the other ace (-3/-.143). Otec added 19 digs.
Iowa was led by senior OH Taylor Louis, who had 17 kills at .167; senior RS Reghan Coyle added 15 at .313 and redshirt junior OH/RS Meghan Buzzerio had 15 at .163, with freshman MB Amiya Jones getting 11 at .346 to round out the group. Sophomore setter Brie Orr led all players with 56 assists and added 13 digs for a double-double. Jones led all players with 2 aces (+2), with senior libero Molly Kelly (1/even) and junior DS Emily Bushman (1/-1) recording the others. Four Hawkeyes shared honors with half a block each, as the visitors managed just two shared blocks on the night. Kelly matched Hornung with 26 digs, as she and Orr were the only Iowa players in double figures.
There must be something about Iowa that is a good match for Purdue’s weak spots, because a similar result unfolded on the road - here, in all five sets, the Boilers just couldn’t shake the Hawkeyes. They didn’t play nearly as well as they did the night before against Nebraska, when the entire difference was at the service line.
The Friday match was both exciting and frustrating, as the Boilers really did play well but saw their efforts undone thanks to service and attack errors. They aren’t yet good enough to give away that many points at home and win; hopefully next season will bring improvement in both areas.
Minnesota has one obstacle remaining in their double victory lap around the conference, and it’s a significant one: Penn State on the road. Win that, and 19-0 Minnesota will face 0-19 Rutgers in the conference finale. Thanks, Delany!
There weren’t really any surprises last week, as the top seven finished with a win and the five longest winning streaks are in the top five. Illinois continues to make a case for hosting a regional, Nebraska may well end up being the first one “out” (hard to imagine a top seed losing in the first two rounds at home), and Wisconsin and Penn State will be tough matchups in regional finals, although you’d imagine at least one all-Big Tenteen pairing will happen in regional semis. It’s entirely possible that Michigan will make the tournament, seeing that they’re 18th in RPI (the next conference team below them is Indiana in 57th), which would give the conference seven bids - not bad after a season in which Minnesota was head and shoulders above the rest of the teams.
The Boilers head(ed) to Bloomington on Thanksgiving eve to face Indiana in what will likely be the last match ever at aging University Gym; IU’s new arena was scheduled to open for the 2018 season but should be open next year. From there, they’ll presumably head to West Lafayette for turkey, then over to Champaign to finish the season at Illinois. Beat IU, lose to Illinois, and the Boilers finish 12-8, exactly where I predicted, although I can’t count, as usual, and guessed 21-8 overall, which would exclude the last two matches, and besides the Boilers already topped 21 wins. I also predicted they’d beat Minnesota and Illinois in that closing stretch, which … well. Anyway! Two road matches, then the bracket on Sunday.
As per usual, you can listen for free online or on WSHY 104.3 FM. This time, the Saturday match is early for some reason (5 PM local time is a really weird time to play). Hopefully by then, the Boilers will have picked up two wins in Bloomington, right?
Feature photo courtesy of Purdue Sports; no shots from the matches because they only have so many photographers and you don’t want to see me trying to take action shots from my seat