Weekend Split Leaves VB 1-3 In Conference Play
Things went pretty much as expected for Purdue volleyball last weekend. They played adequately against Northwestern and got away with it mostly because the Wildcats aren’t very good; they played very well against Illinois for most of a set, then played adequately the rest of the way and did not get away with it because the Illini are seemingly strong enough to make another Final Four run this year despite their grueling non-conference schedule (or perhaps because of it; you get better against really good teams by playing more of them, right?).
Both matches were sellouts, I believe - there were a handful of tickets for the Illinois match but I think they were sold. NU traveled adequately, but Illinois traveled well as usual, and there were only a few obnoxious Illini fans around. (Unfortunately, two of them were in our section. At least it’s volleyball, so it was only obnoxious cheering for their own team; at a football game, they’d have been drunk guys loudly proclaiming the obvious excellence of their team and the outstanding putridity of yours. The only odd thing was one Illinois student - their student section filled a couple of the general-admission rows, as they tend to do - shouting during Marissa Hornung’s toss for one serve. It had no effect, naturally - all these players have heard worse - but it made me wonder what the point was, since it didn’t happen before or after.)
#24 Purdue 3, #70 Northwestern 0 (25-18, 25-23, 25-21)
The Wildcats made a match of it, largely due to an outstanding performance by freshman OH Temi Thomas-Ailara, but the Good Gals held on to win the last two sets, squeaking out a 3-0 win that was a sign of things to come on Sunday.
Boilers at full strength, with Emma Ellis earning the starting freshman spot based on her performance at Minnesota. Maddie Schermerhorn played in two sets; no other bench players made an appearance.
Purdue came out strong in the opening set, jumping out to a 5-1 lead, but they couldn’t shake Northwestern, as the Wildcats slowly chipped away, getting as close as 11-9 before a 3-0 run sparked a timeout right before the media timeout would have occurred. Again, the visitors slowly came back, getting to within two at 16-14 before a short 2-0 run drew their other timeout. NU had one more run left in them, cutting the lead to 19-17, but the Boilers scored six of the last seven points, with consecutive attack errors by Thomas-Ailara ending the first set at 25-18.
Set two opened much like the first, with the Boilers going up 4-1; Northwestern coach Shane Davis quickly called timeout, sensing that the match might be getting away, and it was good that he did, because the Cats settled down and closed to within 6-5; the Good Gals kept them from tying it, and eventually turned a 10-9 lead into 13-9, burning NU’s other timeout. At 19-15, it looked like Purdue would cruise to another set win, but Northwestern had other ideas, scoring back-to-back points on a Thomas-Ailara kill and a Lexi Pitsas ace, forcing Shondell to take a timeout. The Boilers got two of the next three, but this time the Wildcats were persistent, getting a Thomas-Ailara kill and an Ellis attack error to close to 21-20; Thomas-Ailara’s service error made it 22-20, but a Nia Robinson (Indianapolis, IN: Cathedral HS) kill and another Thomas-Ailara kill tied the set and drew Purdue’s last timeout. Two points later, the Boilers were on set point; an Emma Terwilliger service error gave NU brief hope, but a Shavona Cuttino kill ended their rally and gave Purdue a narrow 25-23 win for a 2-0 lead at the break.
Set three was … not like the others. This time, the visitors struck first, leading 0-2, then breaking a 3-3 tie to lead 3-5 and 4-7. Like the last set, they couldn’t shake Purdue, and the Boilers slowly got back in the match, eventually tying it at 14 before a Robinson kill sent the teams into the media timeout at 14-15. Robinson and Olivia Viscuso would team up to block Cuttino for a 14-16 lead, but a Cleveland kill and a Desiree Becker attack error evened the set at 16; after a Thomas-Ailara kill, she was blocked by Cuttino and Cleveland to level it at 17, and a Caitlyn Newton ace drew a Northwestern timeout at 18-17. A Thomas-Ailara attack error made it 19-17, but NU got two kills from her around a Cleveland kill and a Hayley Bush setting error to tie the set at 20 and draw a Purdue timeout. Fortunately for the home crowd, the Good Gals would not trail again; at 22-20, Davis called his last timeout, but it was too late: a Cleveland ace made it 23-20, and after an Alana Walker kill, Mohler made it 24-21, and a Robinson attack error on match point gave the Boilers a hard-fought 25-21 win, sweeping the match 3-0.
Northwestern gave Purdue plenty of help in that win, as the Boilers simply didn’t have much of an advantage on their own in the box score. Their hitting edge was just .274 to .214, and Northwestern actually had more kills (36-39) as well as more digs (32-41) and assists (34-37). Purdue did have a sizable advantage at the service line, with 7 aces (-2) to just 1 for NU, who had 13 service errors for a disappointing -12. Purdue also did well at the net, recording 6.0 blocks to 3.0 for the Wildcats.
Cleveland was the lone Boiler in double-digit kills, just making it with 10, but hit only .161 as NU focused on her and Newton (5 at .150); this freed up the middles, as Mohler and Cuttino each had 6 kills at .455, and Ellis added 9 at .444 from the pin. Bush had 29 assists but only 3 digs Friday; only Otec (11) managed double figures. Ellis also had the only solo block, with Cuttino and Cleveland each recording 1.5 total. Cleveland had three aces (even), with Newton (+1) and Otec (+1) serving two each.
For Northwestern, freshman OH Temi Thomas-Ailara did, well, just about everything on the attack: a whopping 21 kills at .240, plus 6 digs, third behind freshman DS Charlotte Cronister’s 11 and junior libero Lexi Pitsas’ (Munster, IN: Munster HS) 10. Setter Payton Chang, a grad transfer from Stanford, had a match-high 34 assists. Pitsas also served the only ace for NU and was +1 at the line. Junior MH Alana Walker had the only solo block for Northwestern, adding an assist for a team-high 1.5 total.
#24 Purdue 1, #23 Illinois 3 (30-28, 17-25, 14-25, 21-25)
ESPNU got most of the excitement they were looking for, even if it was slightly dulled by some surprisingly incompetent officiating - there were three challenges that reversed calls, two for Illinois and one for Purdue, and in each case, at best I thought the replay was inconclusive, and at worst I thought the down ref was watching the wrong screen. Hopefully we don’t see that guy again for a while.
Mohler’s ankle was definitely bothering her; she was maybe 25% in warmups, skipping anything with leg movement, and wasn’t really able to get much height on her attacks. She gave it a go, but lasted one rotation, with Shondell subbing in Jael Johnson and keeping Mohler out for the rest of the match.
Ellis played in three sets, Maddy Chinn in two, and Ava Torrance in one, briefly; Schermerhorn played in all four sets and recorded an assist and three digs.
On the other side of the net, Illinois was without redshirt senior OH Beth Prince, who hasn’t played since 9/7 against Colorado.
The first set was perfect Big Tenteen volleyball. Illinois led early, 2-4, but Purdue rattled off four straight to go up 6-4. An 0-3 run made it 6-7, but after trading points through 8-9, Purdue got three straight for an 11-9 lead. They slowly increased it, first to 13-10, then to 16-12 after the media timeout and an unsuccessful Illinois challenge. The teams traded points against through 18-15; a Newton kill made it 19-15, then two Illinois attack errors around a Cuttino/Cleveland block of Jacqueline Quade made it 22-15, and Illinois ended up using both timeouts (at 20-15 and 22-15). (We didn’t know it at the time, but the Boilers peaked then.) Illinois used a 1-7 run to burn both Purdue timeouts and close to 23-22, but an Ellis kill put the Good Gals in the barn at 24-22. To ESPNU’s delight, the Illini fought off both set points, then got an ace from Quade to lead 24-25; a Johnson kill made the visiting fans sit, and a Megan Cooney attack error put the Boilers up 26-25. Quade tied it at 26 with a kill, but an Ashlyn Fleming service error gave Purdue set point #4 … to no avail, as Diana Brown put down a Quade pass for 27-all. Newton made it five set points with a kill for 28-27, and then on a Cuttino block of Mica Allison for set point, there was an errant in-the-net call. Purdue challenged it, and although the replay clearly showed that the net never moved, the down ref bizarrely awarded the point to Illinois, continuing the set. Fortunately, even in volleyball, ball don’t lie, and the Boilers made short work of it, using a Cuttino kill for set point #6 and getting a Quade attack to go out for a thrilling 30-28 set win.
If you’d watched Illinois at all this season, you’d have guessed that the first set wasn’t their best effort, and that the second set would not be the same. You would have been correct. The Illini blew Purdue off the court, going up 1-6 and 2-10, burning both Purdue timeouts early on. The Boilers got within 4, at 7-11, but that was just a formality, as Illinois pushed the lead up to 9-18, and Purdue wouldn’t get closer than six the rest of the way, although if the down ref had not blown a review when Illinois challenged a touch at 15-20, the Boilers would have scored three straight and trailed by only five. A Megan Cooney kill did the honors as the set mercifully ended 17-25; the Boiler advantage had seemingly evaporated, and the sides went to the locker room tied only on the scoreboard, with 1-1 not quite describing the match to that point.
Set three started slightly better, but ended slightly worse. This time, the Illini lead was just 3-7, and the Purdue timeout at 4-10 sparked a 4-2 run. Still, 8-12 would be the best it would get for the Good Gals, as a determined Illinois squad got them down 9-17, drawing the other Purdue timeout, then 11-20, and while a 3-1 run got Purdue within seven, the visitors scored the last four points, with an Allison kill the deciding point, and at 14-25, it looked for all the world like the fourth set would be even worse. To Purdue’s credit, it definitely wasn’t.
In fact, it was Purdue who roared out to a quick 6-2 lead. Unfortunately, it didn’t last, as the next three points went to Illinois; an 0-4 run later made it 8-10 and got Shondell to use another early timeout. The Boilers hung close, going on a 4-0 run of their own to lead 13-11 and get Illinois to call a timeout. They answered the next few Illini rallies, leading as late as 18-17, but they just didn’t have enough left in the tank, and Illinois never stopped chipping away, taking the lead at 18-19, then breaking two ties to lead for good at 20-21. At 20-22, Shondell challenged a play that seemed clearly in Illinois’ favor, perhaps assuming that the down ref would blow yet another review - it didn’t work on that point, but after a Purdue timeout at 20-23, a kill by Ashlyn Fleming was overturned on review, and Purdue briefly had life at 21-23. But Quade made sure it was brief, with a kill for match point at 21-24, and one more to end it at 21-25.
Even without the unexpected reversal late in set four, the most ardent Purdue fan couldn’t look at the box score and point to the officiating as any cause of anything other than drama late in set one. Illinois had big advantages everywhere: attacking (47 at .141 to 64 at .234), assists (45-62), aces (2/-2 to 8/+4), blocking (9.0-13.0), and digs (52-60). The length of the match did put two Boilers in double-digit kills, Cleveland (14 at .152) and Newton (10 at .114), but neither were particularly effective, and only Bush (4 at .333) topped .200. Hayley added 40 assists and 8 digs; Otec had both Purdue aces and was +1 at the line; she also tied for match honors with 18 digs, as Hornung added 10. Cuttino led Purdue with 3.0 total blocks.
Senior OH Jacqueline Quade (Fort Wayne, IN: Carroll HS) led Illinois with 20 kills at .145 and added a team-high 18 digs for a double-double; for good measure, she also recorded a match-high 4 aces and did not have a service error. Junior OH Megan Cooney added 19 kills at .333, with senior MB Ashlyn Fleming (9 at .190) and sophomore setter Mica Allison (9 at .333) just missing the double-figure group. (I believe Allison played OH or OPP this match; she definitely wasn’t setting.) Redshirt freshman setter Diana Brown led all players with 51 assists and added an ace (+1) and 13 digs for her own double-double; Junior libero Morgan O’Brien (12) and sophomore DS Taylor Kuper (11) rounded out a quartet of Illini with double-digit digs; Kuper (even), senior DS Caroline Welsh (+1) and Fleming (-2) had the other aces. Freshman MB Kennedy Collins racked up 7 block assists for a match-high 3.5, while Brown was close behind with the only solo of the match and 3.0 total.
Eh. The Northwestern win was nice because the Boilers didn’t drop a set despite playing down to the competition (yet again); the Illinois match had the potential to be really good, but ultimately Purdue just isn’t there yet, especially without Mohler. Sometimes you’re just the second-best team on the floor, and that was definitely the case Sunday.
Minnesota stayed perfect with 3-1 wins at Iowa and home against Rutgers (!!); Wisconsin gave Penn State their first loss, 3-1 in Madison, then swept Nebraska in Lincoln to move to 4-0 with easily the best week in the conference; and Michigan is the surprise third team at 4-0 after sweeping Maryland and Ohio State on the road - the Wolverines have yet to drop a set in conference play. Nebraska swept at Rutgers to move to 3-1, Penn State swept Iowa for the same record, and Illinois made it three with a sweep at Indiana. Michigan State is the lone 2-2 team, winning 3-0 at Ohio State but falling in five sets to Maryland for the Terrapins’ first Big Tenteen win.
Rutgers is 0-4 but did take that set at Minnesota; Northwestern is the other winless team in conference play after falling in four sets at Indiana, who earned their first conference win. Iowa, Maryland and Ohio State join IU and Purdue at 1-3.
The first two legs of a four-match road trip await the Boilers, as they travel to Bloomington Wednesday night to face a revitalized Indiana squad. The Monon Spike will be at stake in this match, as Purdue held it for a 12th straight year after their November win over IU in 2018. Overall, the Good Gals have won 13 straight matches in the series, which is their longest winning streak against Indiana; their last loss was in Bloomington on 10/16/2012, falling in four sets. This will be their first meeting in brand-new Wilkinson Hall.
They’ll then head up to Evanston for a return match with the Wildcats; hopefully Purdue will be able to defend Thomas-Ailara, as she’ll likely be tougher to handle on her home court.
Home matches = new pics; as always, courtesy of Purdue Athletics, and this time they were taken by Charles Jischke and David Wegiel