VB Tops Grizzlies and Irish, Moves to 5-0
Labor Day weekend brought a rare treat to Holloway: non-conference matches not in a tournament. Volleyball is a lot like other non-revenue sports in that it typically looks to cut travel costs, which is why you see a lot of three- and four-team tournaments in August and September. That gives schools the chance to play 2-3 matches but travel to a single location (or stay home, if they're a power-conference school). In past seasons, the Boilers had split these, two home and two away, but this year, the Good Gals make just one road swing (to Alabama), with the Stacey Clark Classic this weekend and individual matches against Oakland and Notre Dame last weekend.
Usually, semi-local teams that stop by for non-conference play are expected to be pushovers. Oakland did not get that script, as they pushed the Boilers in two sets before Purdue finally settled things in four. Notre Dame's stock rose high enough that Massey has them at #52 even after the loss; part of that may have been the 3-0 wins they got against Oakland on Thursday and Friday in South Bend. (So for those two, it kind of worked like a tournament.)
The Boilers have been injury-free so far this season, cross your fingers. Joy Chen made her Purdue debut against Oakland, collecting an assist and half a block, so those of you who had zero in the redshirt pool may collect now. Garrett Joiner and Emma Terwilliger appeared briefly as well, with Joiner getting three attacks and Terwilliger one service error, and Olivia Van Zelst got two digs. Starters were unchanged, although Jael Johnson got significant playing time as Dave Shondell starts to rotate the younger players through ... he already knows what he's got in Shavona Cuttino, so now's a good time to play Johnson and figure out how she can contribute in conference play.
With the Notre Dame match being so close the entire time, no reserves saw action: the lineup was the usual, with Atkinson, Cleveland and Newton at OH, Cuttino and Mohler at MB, Bush setting, Peters at libero, and Hornung, Reisinger and Otec at DS.
#18 Purdue 3, #105 Oakland 1 (25-23, 25-14, 14-25, 25-14)
That's not a misprint: the visitors flipped the score in set three, giving the Good Gals their first lost set of the season, and it wasn't a close one either.
The first set was a back-and-forth affair that was largely missing last weekend. Purdue managed a three-point run to go up 3-1, but essentially traded points through 8-6 before Oakland ran off four straight thanks to three straight blocks and a Lindsay Wightman ace. After a Boiler timeout, a Wightman service error kicked off a 4-0 Purdue run to restore the two-point margin, and an Oakland timeout led to an Abby Neidinger kill that stopped the run. At 17-14, a bad set and two attack errors keyed an 0-5 run that put the Good Gals down two and drew Shondell's other timeout; a Newton kill stopped the run but left the Grizzlies in front, and Oakland would go up 21-23 before the Boilers finally got the run they needed, with four straight to end the set as a Peters ace made it 25-23 and 1-0 Purdue.
That was the end of close play on Saturday. With Johnson in for Cuttino, set two saw the Boilers jump out to a 5-1 lead; Oakland would take advantage of Purdue errors to close within 7-6 before 7 straight Boilers points, including four aces (three consecutive) by Reisinger, closed the door on the visitors. It took both timeouts to stop the run, and even then, Oakland's only point was on a Johnson ball-handling error - a service error put Bush at the line, and when she finally committed a service error it was 19-8 Purdue. Van Zelst and Chen came in at 23-13; a Chen/Mohler block of Aleksandra Malek put the Boilers on set point, and while Malek would make it 24-14, Atkinson put a Chen set away for 25-14 and 2-0. Based on the first weekend's matches, I fully expected this to be 3-0, assuming Oakland had done what they could in set one and had nothing left.
I was wrong. Johnson still in for Cuttino in set three. Things looked normal through 5-4, and when Oakland scored five straight for 5-9, Shondell didn't use a timeout. A Mohler kill and a Jordan Lentz ball-handling error made it 7-9 ... but the Grizzlies scored three straight, and this time Shondell did use a timeout, getting an Atkinson kill for 8-13. Shondell challenged a Newton attack error in vain, and 8-15 became 9-18 - two Cleveland kills got the Boilers into double digits, but it was all for naught. After another Cleveland kill at 12-20, Terwilliger and Joiner entered the match; an 0-3 run put Oakland within striking distance of the set, and the teams would trade points to end it, as a Malek kill put Oakland on the match board 1-2, with a resounding 14-25 ending the Boilers' streak of set wins at 11.
Johnson out, Cuttino in for set four, and it went as quickly as set three was going to in my head. 3-0, 4-1, and 9-2 around an Oakland timeout, and that was pretty much that. The Good Gals would run off four straight around the other Oakland timeout for 18-8, then trade points through 24-14, with Mohler and Sheridan shutting down Krysteena Davis and giving Purdue a 3-1 win.
Purdue's offense wasn't quite where it was last weekend, hitting just .282 with 54 kills to Oakland's .161 and 42; the Boilers also led in assists (50-40), aces (6/-1 to 4/-1), blocks (10 to 7) and digs (50-44), but in each category their lead was more reflective of the play in the first set than that in the last three - Oakland was a solid presence and wasn't quite the easy opponent I'd expected.
With the match going four sets, counting stats were up accordingly: Atkinson led the way with 17 kills at .306, but she was joined in double figures by two excellent performances, with Mohler (12 at .478) and Cleveland (12 at .400) taking advantage of Oakland's focus on her. Bush had 46 of Purdue's 50 assists and added an ace (at .000). Reisinger's run put her at a match-high +4, serving .267 (second only to her .300 against Wofford), while Peters (1/-1/-.048) had the other ace. Mohler led all players with 8 block assists for 4.0 total, with Atkinson adding 2.0 and Cleveland 1.5 (including the only Purdue solo). Hornung was one of three Boilers with 10+ digs, leading all players with 12, as Peters and Otec added 10 each.
Oakland's attack was led by senior OH Aleksandra Malek, who was the only Grizzly with double-figure kills (10 at .143). Redshirt sophomore RS Mackenzie Schneider added 9 at .222, while redshirt senior MH Krysteena Davis hit .357 with 6 kills, and redshirt junior S Jordan Lentz hit .500 with 5 kills and added a team-high 28 assists. Sophomore MH Jamie Walling (+2) had two of their four aces, with sophomore libero Lindsay Wightman (even) and sophomore DS Kenzie Dunn (even) adding one each. Freshman OH Abby Neidinger had the lone solo block for Oakland and 2.0 total, tying Walling for team honors, and Wightman added 11 digs.
#18 Purdue 3, #104 Notre Dame 1 (25-22, 25-21, 23-25, 25-20)
You might think that a team rolling out two 5'9" outside hitters would be easy pickings for a taller Boiler squad. You would not be correct. While Jemma Yeadon did struggle a bit, Hanna Thompson hit pretty well, and as with players like slightly-taller Azariah Stahl last year, they're not the primary attackers, they're the ones rounding out the attack. Shorter OH also tend to be solid six-rotation players, since their height is perfect for back-row play, and Yeadon definitely fit that bill on Sunday.
Right off the bat, that didn't seem to be the case, as Purdue jumped out to a 4-1 lead thanks in part to blocks of Yeadon by Atkinson/Cuttino and Atkinson/Mohler. Notre Dame ran off three straight for a tie, and at 6-4, they used a 1-8 run to go up 7-12 and draw a Purdue timeout. That led to a Ryann DeJarld service error, and Purdue would close to within 11-13 after two Newton kills, but four of the next five went to the blue and gold, and Shondell used his last timeout at 12-17. His timeout magic worked - three points later, Notre Dame used a timeout, and four points after that, it was 19-17 Purdue. A Hannah Thompson kill stopped the run at 7-0, but an Atkinson kill and a Yeadon attack error made it 21-18 and drew the other Irish timeout. The Boilers led by as much as 23-19 before two Rebecca Nunge kills drew Notre Dame within striking distance, but a Newton kill made it 24-21, and after a Charley Niego kill gave Notre Dame the serve (and earned a yellow card for the Purdue bench that was, as is customary, neither mentioned nor explained), a Niego attack error gave Purdue the opening set, 25-22.
Purdue again took control early in set two, scoring five straight after a pair of Yeadon kills to lead 6-2. After an ND timeout, another Yeadon kill and an ace from her made it 6-4, but Purdue slowly pulled away, reaching 12-7 on a Meg Morningstar attack error, and that led to Notre Dame's second timeout ... and an 0-4 Irish run to cut the lead to 12-11. The visitors would later run off three straight to lead 14-15, and after a DeJarld ace was reviewed and determined to be an error, a pair of ND points made it 17-18 Irish. The Boilers would get five of the next seven to lead 22-20, and after a Peters service error, a Cleveland kill and a Mohler/Cleveland block of Yeadon put them on the doorstep, and an attack error by Rebecca Nunge made it 25-21 Purdue and 2-0 in the match.
With back-and-forth action starting the third set, the Irish were the first to go on a run, going up 3-6 on a pair of Sydney Bent kills around a Yeadon kill. Purdue responded at 5-9 with three of their own, then at 8-10 they scored four more to lead 12-10, and the teams would alternate through the first media timeout of the day up to 16-14, when a Reisinger ace put the Good Gals up three. The Irish countered with a 1-4 run to tie it at 18, and a Niego/Morningstar block of Atkinson made it 19-20 on a call that was confirmed via replay. Purdue came back to lead 22-20 and looked to close out the match, but a Notre Dame timeout led to another 0-3 run and a Purdue timeout at 22-23. A Mohler kill knotted it at 23, but kills from Bent and Yeadon gave the visitors the third set, and for the second straight day, Purdue would be playing four.
The fourth set looked a bit like its partner against Oakland, as the Good Gals took a quick 7-1 lead and burned an Irish timeout. Notre Dame slowly chipped away at the lead, finally getting an 0-4 run to close within 12-10 and then consecutive points to make it 14-13, but this would not be a repeat of the first set, as Purdue got four straight to lead 18-13, and the Irish would not score consecutive points against until 24-18; at 24-20, Cleveland put away a Bush set for the match in a set that was both the easiest work the Boilers had done and still a closely-played set.
Purdue found themselves pretty much even with Notre Dame in the box score: 51 kills at .191 to 53 kills at .168 for the Irish, 50-46 in assists, 9-9 in total blocks, and 68-74 in digs with ND in front ... but the service line showed a significant edge for the Good Gals, with Purdue 8/-1/-.010 to Notre Dame's 4/-8, with six different Irish players contributing to their total of 12 service errors.
As per usual, Atkinson led the Boiler attack with 17 kills, but she hit just .192 thanks to Notre Dame's focus on her. This opened up opportunities for other hitters, but while Newton (11 at .226) and Cleveland (10 at .162) fared about the same, Mohler had her second straight red-hit match, hitting .526 with 11 kills. Bush had 46 assists and just missed a double-double with 9 digs; Hornung and Otec matched the latter but were far outdistanced by Peters, who recorded a career-high 30 digs to lead all players. Her total is the most by a Boiler in a four-set match since Carly Cramer had 30 against Minnesota in 2010 and is the fourth-best in four sets in program history (Kelli Miller has the record with 40 against IU in 2007). Atkinson (+2/.091), Peters (-2/-.087) and Reisinger (+1/.083) each had two assists, with Hornung (even) and Otec (-1/-.077) adding one each. Cuttino led the block board with 2.5 total, with Mohler (2.0), Atkinson and Newton (1.5 each) right behind her.
Notre Dame's attack was led by junior OH Jemma Yeadon, who hit just .022 but had a team-high 13 kills; freshman OH Charley Niego (.100) and senior OH Rebecca Nunge (.267) added 12 each. Freshman setter Zoe Nunez had 41 assists and 10 digs for a double-double, joining Yeadon, who had a team-high 22 digs to go with her kills. Yeadon also had a team-high 3 aces (+2), with senior libero Ryann DeJarld (-3) serving the other and adding 21 digs. Senior MB Meg Morningstar led all players with 3.0 total blocks.
It didn't take long for opposing coaches to figure out that a 6'5" senior outside hitter is someone you should pay attention to; perhaps for that reason, Otec and Hornung have been getting hitting practice, and on Sunday, both of them seemed to have plays run for them (Hornung had 7 attacks, which is a ton for a DS). No kills for either yet, but I think the idea is to get more hitters out of the back than just Atkinson; once defenses have to account for other hitters, Atkinson should find more space.
Mohler is hitting .425 through five matches and averaging more than 4.0 blocks per match; with just 6 errors on 87 attacks, she's quickly become the same kind of threat Purdue has had in the middle since before I was watching volleyball. As Newton and Cleveland get more experience, we're likely to see a couple of matches where Purdue hits better than .500 (they hit .432 against Tulsa).
Otec got deserved credit for her service last year, but Reisinger is the sophomore who's been acing opponents this season. Her +4 against Oakland was a team high this season, and her .300 against Wofford is still a team mark. She's serving .118 with aces more than double errors; Atkinson (.060) is the only other Boiler serving better than even. Mohler hasn't served since the Bowling Green match and isn't likely to moving forward, given the way Reisinger has stepped up, which is fine - it's seemed like Blake has had trouble keeping her shoulder loose this year, and while that might be just a minor thing or the usual MB troubles, it's not a bad idea to keep some stress off her arm.
Five teams in the top 10, led by Penn State and Wisconsin 2 and 3. Nebraska is #5 despite a season-opening loss at home to co-#9 Florida. #28 Michigan State's opening loss at Tennessee is still their only blemish. #40 Ohio State lost a five-setter at #33 Mississippi, not bad, and neither is their position, ninth in the conference, suggesting the Big Tenteen could maybe get nine teams in the Dance if early results hold true.
Iowa and Rutgers are the only teams below .500. Iowa has had a rough schedule - losing at Lipscomb (who'll be visiting Holloway this weekend), at Washington and to Colorado in Olympia - but Rutgers is still not very good. Thanks, Delany.
Three more home matches in Holloway, with the Saturday match at the usual time since Louisville is just down the road and can still be home Saturday night, and also because football is playing Eastern Michigan at noon. (Guess who's spending two long days in West Lafayette this week?) The Good Gals move up to #16, but two of their opponents have moved up as well (hint: not Xavier), so those matches may be more like the ones we just saw.
Massey sees two 3-0 wins and a 3-1 against another ACC opponent. An 8-0 start would position Purdue well for a road trip that seems a bit more challenging than the last time I checked, with Alabama right behind Purdue at #20 and South Alabama and Southern Miss likely to be more of a test than Xavier.
Photos courtesy of Purdue Athletics, taken by Charles Jischke and David Wegiel