VB Sweeps Alabama, Finishes Non-Conference 11-0
While football was preparing for its second night game in three weeks, volleyball was heading south on its only non-conference road swing of the year, to Tuscaloosa for the Crimson-White Tournament. Since Alabama was ranked by AVCA and Massey, and both Southern Miss and South Alabama were ranked in the 100s, it seemed likely that the one good match would be against the host Crimson Tide … not coincidentally, the only match on live TV.
So, during the preamble to the First Annual Boiled Sports Summit, I set up my tablet, tuned into SEC+ … and watched the Boilers power through Alabama in three sets. I’d forgotten about the Southern Miss match, so I caught the score afterward, but I did follow the South Alabama match online, and after another 3-2 win, well … let’s just say I feel much better about those wins now than I did at the time. Road matches are not easy, but neutral-court ones can be tricky two, and Purdue survived the last two they’ll play until December.
Normal starting lineup for the first two matches; Jael Johnson came in for Shavona Cuttino in the last two sets against South Alabama. No doubt due to the closeness of the first and last matches and the surprise in the sweep, nobody else got playing time. There was also one rotation change in the South Alabama match: Julianna Reisinger served for Sherridan Atkinson instead of Blake Mohler, and Mohler served for herself in all five sets. I figure this was probably a combination of giving Atkinson a rest on a long weekend, giving Mohler more service opportunities, and giving Reisinger more time on defense.
#13 Purdue 3, #114 Southern Miss 2 (27-29, 26-24, 25-16, 23-25, 21-19)
As you might expect, the Boilers had a little trouble getting started on the road, dropping the first three points in set one before finding their rhythm. Even after that, they basically traded points until 8-10, when a 3-0 Boiler run gave Purdue its first lead at 11-10. USM took it back, 11-12, and the sides traded points through 13-14, then traded 3-point runs for 16-17, and again traded points through 21-21, when a Jena Otec ace finally gave Purdue a point on its serve and drew a USM timeout. The teams stayed even through 23-23, when a Caitlyn Newton kill gave Purdue set point #1; an Atkinson attack error made it 24-24, and a Newton attack error gave Southern Miss their first set point. After a Purdue timeout, Atkinson tied it at 25, then combined with Cuttino to block Kylie Grandy for set point #2 … but a Catherine Repsher kill after a USM timeout tied it at 26. Purdue got #3 on yet another Atkinson kill, and this time Grandy got the answer for 27-27. The Golden Eagles got their second set point on an Ashley Berry kill, and after Purdue’s final timeout, Grandy and Alexis Coombs blocked Atkinson, and the Good Gals found themselves down 0-1 for the first time all season.
Set two went much the same way at first, with Purdue going up 2-0, USM taking a 2-3 lead, and the teams playing even through 9-8. Southern Miss used three Grandy kills to key an 0-4 run around a Purdue timeout to put the Boilers down 9-12, but they responded with a 6-1 run of their own, as Mohler and Grace Cleveland combined for three kills and a block to make it 15-13, drawing a USM timeout. Five points later, Purdue was out of timeouts and it was 15-18 USM, and when the teams traded points through 19-22, it began to look like the Good Gals would be down 0-2. A Cleveland kill made it 20-22, a Brooke Peters ace cut the lead to one and got the other USM timeout, another Cleveland kill tied it, and a Repsher attack error put the Good Gals in front for the first time since 15-14. A Peters service error tied it at 23, but Mohler put the Boilers on the doorstep with a kill, and after an Atkinson service error, Mohler added two more to even the match. Purdue would need to turn things around after the break if they wanted to avoid an upset … and potentially a draining match in advance of their evening meeting with host Alabama.
After the break, it was more of the same, with the teams trading ones and twos through 6-7. It looked like Purdue might finally shake Southern Miss loose with a 7-1 run around a USM timeout, but even at 13-8, the Golden Eagles stuck with it, using a 1-4 run to draw within 15-13. Trading points through 17-15, the Good Gals finally got what they needed, with Newton, Cuttino and Atkinson firing off kills around the other USM timeout for a commanding 21-15 lead, and after a Chandler Marshall kill, they used a 4-0 run capped by a Cleveland kill to close out the set, 25-16, and take a 2-1 lead in the match.
Early in the fourth, Purdue was up 4-1, and it looked for a minute like they might make short work of USM and get a little breather, but back came Southern Miss, tying it at 4. At 6-6, the Boilers got three straight points for 9-6, but USM got the lead back down to 10-9, and at 15-13, they used a 1-4 run to go up 16-17 and use Purdue’s first timeout (the PBP says it was their second, but the first was after a Marissa Hornung ace so I’m guessing that was USM). Two points later, it was 18-17, but an 0-3 Golden Eagles run burned Purdue’s actual last timeout. A Newton kill and a Cuttino/Hayley Bush block of Marshall tied it, but USM got two of their own to go up 20-22, and the teams would trade points the rest of the way, with a Grandy kill after USM’s final timeout becoming the deciding point. 23-25 was close, but it was still a lost set, and the Good Gals would need to turn things around to win this one in five sets.
They very nearly didn’t. Purdue fell behind 0-3 and 2-6, with Shondell using a timeout there and again at 5-10. The second one proved to be the turning point, as Purdue ran off three straight and drew a USM timeout. At 9-12, the Boilers grabbed four more and burned USM’s final timeout; Grandy and Mohler traded kills, and it was Purdue who’d get match point #1, but Ashley Berry evened it up for Southern Miss with a kill. Mohler earned match point #2, but an Otec attack error tied it at 15. Repsher gave USM a chance to win with a kill, but a Berry attack error tied it at 16; Marshall made it 16-17 for USM match point #2, but an Atkinson kill tied it at 17. Again Marshall responded, and on match point #3, again Atkinson responded - 18-18, Purdue serving. Yet another Atkinson kill gave Purdue their third match point, but Bush was called for a bad set … which was quickly evened out when Kellie Garraway drew the same call, and finally, at 20-19, Purdue scored on match point #4 the easy way, with a Peters ace recording the final point of the match.
You’d expect a five-set match to produce all kinds of big numbers, and sure enough, both teams posted some nice individual marks, even if some of the team marks weren’t the best. Purdue outhit Southern Miss .221 (74 kills) to .185 (66 kills) and had an advantage in assists (70-59), aces (7/-5/-.041 to 4/-4), blocks (14-8) and digs (85-81).
For the Boilers, Sherridan Atkinson led the way with 25 kills, but she needed 72 attacks to get them and hit just .222. That left Blake Mohler open more often than not, and she took full advantage, posting a career-high 21 kills at a sizzling .545, while Caitlyn Newton joined the double-digit parade with 11 kills at .111; for the back-row brigade, Marissa Hornung had 1 kill at .333 and Jena Otec had no kills at -.222. Hayley Bush posted another double-double with a match-high 62 assists and a career-high 17 digs, but she had just barely over half the team high, as Brooke Peters topped her not-quite-two-week-old career high with 32 digs to lead all players; Hornung added a career-best 14 herself. Three Boilers had multiple aces, with Peters (3/+1/.032) and Hornung (2/+1/.043) above zero and Otec (2/-1/-.056) below it, but two others had only service errors, as Atkinson (-2/-.133) and Reisinger (-4/-.333) had uncharacteristic struggles at the line. Blake Mohler and Caitlyn Newton each had a solo block; Atkinson and Mohler had 7 assists each, giving Mohler team and match honors with 4.5 total blocks.
The Southern Miss attack was led by senior OH Kylie Grandy, who had a match-high 26 kills at .167; junior OH Ashley Berry added 13 at .300 and junior MB Catherine Repsher had 10 at .129. Senior setter Sarah Bell matched her counterpart with a double-double of her own (49 assists and 13 digs), and like Bush, she was well behind her libero, as sophomore Madison Lawler led the Golden Eagles with 22 digs, with freshman DS Kellie Garraway (19), Grandy (12, for her own double-double) and junior DS Ashley Chapman (11) also recording double-digit digs. Repsher (3/+2) had all but one of the USM aces, with Grandy (1/even) adding the other. Berry, Bell, and senior MB Alexis Coombs each had a solo block, with Coombs leading USM with 2.0 total blocks.
#13 Purdue 3, #23 Alabama 0 (25-22, 25-19, 25-15)
The Boilers saved their best match of the year for Friday’s nightcap against the Crimson Tide. The first set started out pretty well, as Purdue ran off four straight after digging an 0-2 hole, but the hosts stayed with the Good Gals and ended up with a 1-6 run to take a 9-11 lead; Purdue responded with three more to lead 12-11. Two Newton attack errors put Alabama up 12-14, but the Boilers roared back to lead 16-14 around the media timeout; the Crimson Tide scored two of their own to make it 16-16. Two Mohler kills got the Boilers a 3-1 run and 19-17, but three straight from Alabama drew a Purdue timeout and put them up 19-20. Time for three more runs? Sure! Three Purdue points and an Alabama timeout - 22-20. Two Alabama points and a Purdue timeout - 22-22. Three Purdue points finished the set, with a Reisinger ace getting them set point, and after Alabama’s other timeout, a Cuttino/Newton block of Hayley McSparin made it Boilers 25, Crimson Tide 22.
Set two was an improvement on set one, with Purdue going up 3-1 and 7-4. Alabama eventually tied it at 11-11 and even took the lead at 12-13, but Mohler, Atkinson and Cuttino added kills to put the Good Gals ahead 15-13 at the media timeout, and the Crimson Tide would not lead again. At 19-15, Alabama used their first timeout, and they got an 0-3 run around a Purdue timeout, but they couldn’t get a tying point, and back-to-back Peters aces restored the four-point margin and drew the other Alabama timeout. A Mohler attack error made it 22-19, but an Atkinson kill, a bad set call on Meghan Neelon, and a Bush/Mohler block of Doris Carter gave the visitors a 25-19 win and a surprising 2-0 lead at the break.
Purdue didn’t let up in set three, roaring out to a 6-2 lead and forcing an early Alabama timeout. After three straight service errors, the Boilers added three more points, and at 10-4, Alabama had no choice but to use their final timeout. A 1-3 run made it closer, and the Tide would eventually draw within 11-14, but five straight Purdue points gave the Boilers an insurmountable 19-11 lead, and with no timeouts left, Alabama had no choice but to fight through their struggles. They would score just once more on their serve, and at 24-15, a Ginger Perinar attack error gave the set and the match to Purdue.
I haven’t seen Alabama play this season, but I feel comfortable saying that this was not their best effort. It’s also true that the Good Gals were probably a rough matchup for Alabama anyway, as Purdue dominated the box score: a 47-32 advantage in kills, .327 to .171 attack percentage, 44-29 in assists, 7/even to 5/-1 in aces, 5-1 in blocks, and 50-42 in digs.
Once again, Atkinson led the way in kills, with 10 at .300; three teammates topped the .400 mark, as Mohler (9 at .467), Cuttino (7 at .636) and Bush (5 at .714) all hit well against the Crimson Tide. Bush added a match-high 37 assists, and Peters (3/+1/.067), Reisinger (2/+2/.200), Otec (1/-1/-.071) and Atkinson (1/-1/-.091) all recorded aces. Cleveland had the only solo block of the match, with Bush the surprising leader at 1.5 total blocks. Peters led all players with 17 digs; no other Boiler had more than 8, although one of those two was Atkinson, who nearly matched her career high (10 against Wofford).
Alabama did not have anyone with double-digit kills, but sophomore OH Doris Carter was close, posting 9 kills at .179; senior MB Cidavia Hall (4 at .400) was the only Alabama player with multiple attacks to hit .300 or better. Sophomore setter Meghan Neelon (15) and freshman setter Mylana Byrd (12) split the setting duties, while senior libero Quincey Gary (Alexandria, IN - Pendleton Heights) had a team-high 13 digs and 2/+1 aces. Carter (1/+1), Neelon (1/+1), and junior OH Mahalia Swink (1/even) had the other Alabama aces, and Byrd and junior MB Hayley McSparin split the only Crimson Tide block.
#13 Purdue 3, #183 South Alabama 2 (24-26, 25-13, 23-25, 25-14, 15-7)
Once again, Purdue started slowly, giving up the first two points in the opening set before getting things moving. The Jaguars stayed with them, though, and after a 6-1 run made it 10-6 Good Gals, a South Alabama timeout led to an 0-7 run that burned both the lead and a Purdue timeout. The Boilers traded points until another 0-3 run made it 16-20 Jaguars; Shondell used his timeout magic to coax a 5-0 run and USA’s last timeout, but the Jaguars weren’t done, and they took a 22-23 lead on three Kelley Hartman kills. Back-to-back Atkinson kills got the Boilers the first set point of the match, but Hartman responded again, and after a Hannah Harris kill gave USA set point, Hartman got the final point with an ace, putting Purdue down 0-1 for the second time in as many days.
Set two seemed more like a Purdue opening set … for all of two points, after which Hartman and Harris combined for four straight kills and a 2-4 USA lead. Fortunately, that turned out to be an aberration, as two Reisinger aces sparked a 4-0 run, and after Reisinger and Hartman traded service errors, the Boilers strung together 10 more points and burned both USA timeouts - at 17-5, there was no question that the match would be even at the break. The odd thing was that the 11-0 Purdue run included no kills: 3 blocks, 3 unforced attack errors, two aces, two setting errors, and a service error. Alexis Silver finally got a Jaguar point with a kill, and USA would close to 19-10, but three more Boiler points (on two USA attack errors and an Atkinson kill) got the lead into double digits again. The sides would trade three-point runs to end the set, with kills by Cleveland and Atkinson wrapping up set two at 25-13.
Purdue came out a little quicker in set three, going up 3-1, 5-2 and 8-4, but an 0-5 run wiped out the four-point lead, and after back-to-back Atkinson kills put the Good Gals in front again, five straight South Alabama points drew a Shondell timeout and put the Boilers down 10-14. They would fall behind by five on three occasions, at 11-16, 12-17 and 13-18, but consecutive Otec aces completed a 4-0 rally to close to 17-18. After a USA timeout, the Jaguars got kills from Harris and Meaghan Jones, forcing Purdue to use its final timeout. Bush got a quick kill to make it 18-20, but a Jones kill put USA up three again. The sides traded points to 19-22, when Atkinson and Cleveland got Purdue within 1. Hartman made it 21-23 and a Jones ace gave South Alabama set point, but attack errors by Hartman and Harris got the Boilers back to 23-24 and got USA to use their last timeout. It worked, as a Peters service error gave the Jaguars the set, and Purdue was facing a 1-2 match deficit for the first time this season.
Early in set four, it looked as though it might end up 1-3, as the Jaguars erased a 2-0 lead to go in front 2-3, trading points through 5-6. A quick 3-0 Purdue run got the Good Gals back up 8-6, but a Jones kill and a Katelyn Lochner ace tied it at 8. The Boilers needed a big run, and just like in the second set, they got one: three Atkinson kills and two Cleveland kills highlighted a 10-0 run that put set four safely in the Boilers’ pockets, 18-8, as again they forced South Alabama to use both timeouts. A Hornung service error stopped the run, but it didn’t much matter, with USA scoring just once on its serve the rest of the way, and a Harris service error gave set four to the Good Gals. Tied at 2 but with two big wins and two narrow losses on the scoreboard, the question for Boiler fans was which type of set they’d see in set five.
At first, it looked like the latter, with USA leading 0-1 and 1-3, but the Boilers hung tight, taking a 4-3 lead and then getting three straight to lead 7-4 and draw USA’s first timeout. A Morgan Stalcup kill ended that run, but a Hartman attack error and a Johnson solo block of Stalcup made it 10-6; South Alabama had no choice but to use their final timeout. They’d get one more point on a Jones kill, but the Boilers took it the rest of the way, closing the match with five straight points capped by a Hornung ace, and despite being pushed to the limit, the Boilers escaped Tuscaloosa with their perfect record intact.
As that 11-0 run suggested, the Jaguars were their own worst enemies, hitting at or below zero in three of five sets. The Boilers had a big attack edge, .265 to .098, but USA actually had more kills (54-52) and more assists (49-48), while Purdue enjoyed big edges in aces (12/+5/.045 to 7/even) and blocks (16/5, with the Boilers posting 8 solos to 0 for USA), and the Good Gals had a slight edge in digs, 64-57.
It wouldn’t be a match without Atkinson in double figures, as she had a match-high 17 kills at a whopping .410 (remember Purdue hit under .300); Cleveland joined her in double digits with 14 at .273. Bush had another double-double with 37 assists and 14 digs, close behind Peters’ team-high 19 digs. Otec recorded a career-high 5 aces to lead all players, serving at +3/.130, with Reisinger right behind at 4/+2/.133, and Peters (1/even), Bush (1/+1/.059) and Hornung (1/-1/-.036) each serving one ace, and Hornung joining the double-digit dig crew with 12. Caitlyn Newton had 4 solo blocks - I need to find the last time a Boiler had that many in one match. Oddly, she had no block assists, but 4 is usually enough to lead all players, as it was Saturday, with Mohler (3.5 total), Cleveland (2.5), Johnson (2.5) and Atkinson (2) adding a solo block apiece.
USA had three players with 10+ kills, led by junior MB Kelley Hartman with 16 at .229. Hartman was joined by sophomore outside hitters Hannah Harris (15 at .235) and Meaghan Jones (12 at .150). Assists were split between redshirt senior setter Parker Harrell (24) and freshman setter Rachael DeMarcus (21), with Harrell adding 13 digs for a double-double of her own. Three Jaguars served a pair of aces - Harrell (+1), Hartman (even) and senior libero Katelyn Lochner (-1), with Jones (+1) serving the other ace. Lochner led South Alabama with 24 digs as well, and Hartman topped the Jaguars with 2.5 total blocks.
Two five-set wins over teams in the 100s - not a great thing. Two five-set wins on a neutral court, both comeback wins - definitely a good thing. Sweeping a top-25 team on the road - definitely a great thing. The Boilers faced a tough challenge last weekend and came away perfect; they should be more than ready for conference play this weekend.
#3 Illinois swept Northern Iowa and Lipscomb and beat Creighton in four sets; even at home, that’s a solid weekend, and they will pose a tough test for the Boilers Friday. #4 Nebraska had an easy 3-0 weekend, and #8 Wisconsin swept #18 Marquette at Marquette, then beat Illinois State in 4 and swept Ohio State in Madison on Wednesday, so they’re at full strength for conference play too. #9 Penn State cruised over the weekend but fell in straight sets to #11 Minnesota on Wednesday, wow. #10 Michigan is one of eight teams escaping the weekend unbeaten with a home-and-home sweep of Notre Dame, dropping just one set in South Bend. The Boilers fell to #14 due to other teams moving up, with #22 Michigan State rounding out the top 25 with three easy weekend wins.
Iowa, Ohio State, Northwestern, Indiana, and Maryland are all above .500, although the last three are in the NIT section (no, there’s no volleyball NIT). Rutgers is 6-8.
Traveling partners Illinois and Northwestern start the Big Tenteen season for the Good Gals, and they’d better be ready, because as you might have seen, Illinois is playing pretty well. If this Boiler squad wants to make a statement, there’s no better time than Friday in Holloway.
Listen for free online or on WSHY 104.3 FM and follow along on Purdue’s stat tracker. Or come down to Holloway on Saturday after football and see if the Good Gals can follow up a football win with a volleyball win. (I know I predicted a football loss, but come on, we all want to see a win on Homecoming.)
Feature photo courtesy of Purdue Athletics, taken by Charles Jischke. Yeah, I know I used it last week - I like this one, and you know the rule: road trip = no new photos.