VB 8-1 After Taking Stacey Clark Classic Title
To be sure, this wasn’t much of a surprise: none of the teams the Boilers faced last weekend were in Massey’s top 100, but sometimes teams have a letdown after a solid performance, particularly young teams and particularly in matches like these, where it might seem as though victory is all but guaranteed.
Instead, the Good Gals rolled to three more wins, dropping just one set over the weekend (and it was understandable, as you’ll soon see). The run over the last couple of weeks vaulted the Boilers back up to #17, good for fourth in the conference with a sizable asterisk (Illinois and Wisconsin, two teams who’ve dropped below Purdue since the season began, have played killer schedules so far).
#19 Purdue 3, #150 Texas A&M - Corpus Christi 0 (25-14, 25-15, 25-8)
The overmatched Islanders never really looked comfortable, failing to record an ace, getting just one block, and never testing the Boilers for any length of time.
Everyone who’s likely to play this year made an appearance, with 15 Boilers seeing some action - it’s possible there’s something up with Megan Renner, but she’s warming up with her teammates like normal, so I think it’s much more likely that she’s going to redshirt, giving her two years of separation from Hayley Bush and Joy Chen.
Maddy Chinn got the OH nod this time, playing in two sets and hitting .400 on 10 attacks. Ava Torrance got her first boxscore contributions, recording 3 digs in 2 sets.
Corpus Christi played very well to start the first set, alternating points through 5-6, but a 9-0 Boiler run put the match away, as the Islanders would get no closer than 4 the rest of the way. Purdue led 6-1 and 10-3 in the second set, keeping it safely out of reach, and then started 9-1 and 14-2 in the third set, allowing the somewhat-sparse crowd the chance to get an early start on lunch.
The Boilers played like you’d imagine a contender would play, posting significant wins in every column on the board: attacking (49 at .548 - yes, .548 - to 22 at .131), assists (45-18), aces (6/-5 to 0/-7), blocks (8.0-1.0), and digs (40-27). No Purdue player managed 10 kills, but Grace Cleveland and Blake Mohler came closest, as Cleveland had 9 kills at .818, while Mohler had 9 at .533, with just one error between them in 26 attacks. In fact, Purdue had just 3 attack errors for the match, and that .548 was their second-best percentage ever, behind a .560 performance against Notre Dame back in 1983. (There isn’t a record for fewest attack errors in a match, so I don’t know if they were close or not.) Other category honors went to Bush (34 assists), Jena Otec (4 aces/+1, 14 digs), Maddy Chinn (1 solo block), and Mohler (2.0 total blocks).
The Islanders were led by senior setter/opposite Madison Green, who had 7 kills at .353, solid numbers especially given the score. She also had a team-high 6 assists and shared team honors with junior OH Chloe Simon, as the two had 6 digs apiece. The lone block was split by sophomore MB Sam Dumity and senior OH Eloi van Velthooven.
#19 Purdue 3, #148 Murray State 0 (25-19, 25-22, 25-19)
Murray State played much better than Purdue’s first opponent, but in the end, the shorter Racers just couldn’t slow the Boilers’ attack enough to take a set.
Shondell went to his bench quite a bit again, bringing in Chinn for two sets and Schermerhorn, Ellis, Chen, Koch and Johnson for one … but there was one play that caused a significant change and may have an impact on future matches. (For those of you with BTN+, you can find the replay here - look at about the 1:00:40 mark.) Mohler went up for an attack and came down on her left leg; her ankle buckled almost immediately, and she went to the floor, causing a stoppage in play. (Volleyball has sensible rules about this; don’t get me started about soccer.) She was able to get up and continue, but was subbed out a couple of points later for Jael Johnson and did not return - by no coincidence, this happened during an 0-5 Murray State run.
Murray State came out strong, staying with the Boilers through 16-all, before a 4-0 run gave the Good Gals a lead they wouldn’t relinquish; they’d close with a 4-1 run for a 25-19 win that was closer than the score made it seem. Again in the second, the Racers played well for most of the set, leading as late as 15-17 before a 5-0 Purdue run gave the Boilers the lead to stay. The Good Gals had rattled off 5 straight in the third set to lead 14-8, then traded points to get to 15-9, causing Shondell to send in Koch and Chen for Cleveland and Bush. At 15-10, Mohler went down; she stayed in, but Murray State scored two more, and Bush and Cleveland came back in; at 15-13, Johnson came in and Mohler was done. 15-14 drew a Purdue timeout, and the Good Gals finally settled down, using a 6-2 run to get a comfortable lead and see it out, but the injury to Mohler cast a pall over an otherwise reasonable performance.
Purdue did not do a good job with their attacks, getting just 102 to the Racers’ 120; Purdue did hit .304 with 39 kills to .125 and 35 for the visitors, but the number of free balls Purdue sent over was most of what made the match as close as it was. The Good Gals also had a narrow edge in assists (35-33) and digs (46-44), but they dominated the net (11.0-1.0 blocks) … and struggled all match with serves, as MSU had 8 aces (+1) to just 3 (-2) for the hosts.
Cleveland was the only Boiler with double-figure kills, getting 10 at .300 and adding a match-high 6 block assists; she also was one of three Purdue players with an ace (-1; Newton and Marissa Hornung were both even). Bush led all players with 31 assists, Otec had a match-high 16 digs with Hornung just behind her at 14, and Mohler managed 3 solo blocks before she left, with that number and her 4.5 total both leading all players.
Murray State set senior OH Rachel Giustino for more than a third of their attacks, and she piled up a match-high 16 kills, but hit just .186 in the losing effort. Junior setter/OH Ashley McBee had 29 assists and just missed a double-double with 9 digs, second to junior libero Becca Fernandez’ 13. Giustino led all players with 3 aces (+1), while McBee (even) and junior setter Callie Anderton (+1) served two each. MSU’s lone block was split between junior MB Katirah Johnson and redshirt sophomore MB Kolby McClelland.
#19 Purdue 3, #216 Eastern Michigan 1 (21-25, 25-22, 25-18, 25-19)
Mohler came out in a walking boot and did not dress or go through warmups; her absence was noticeable, particularly in the first set, but the Boilers came back strong and made sure they took care of business.
With Mohler out, Jael Johnson played all four sets - presumably one of the freshmen would have played at MB if needed, since Cleveland is locked in at OPP. Ellis and Koch split duties at the OH position opposite Newton, but the big change was late in the first set, when Shondell replaced Newton with Schermerhorn for defensive purposes, but left the freshman in for a full back-row rotation. From that point on, Cleveland became the six-rotation player, and Newton was OH-only, most likely because a) Newton was struggling both on attack and defense, b) Cleveland was on fire attack-wise, and c) down 5 late to a weaker team, something needed to change. It’ll be interesting to see if Shondell stays with that move in conference play or if Newton gets more time in the back row.
Purdue actually led early, 6-3 and 8-4, but the Eagles used a 1-6 run to go up 11-13, then ran off five of six to lead 13-18. The Boilers got back within one with a 5-1 run, keyed by a kill and an ace from Cleveland, but they would get no closer, and an 0-4 run turned 19-20 into 19-24, with a Cassie Haut kill marking Purdue’s first lost set of the weekend.
The rest of the match played out like the first two, with the Good Gals opening up leads of 15-7, 11-5, and 12-7 in the remaining sets, with the Eagles unable to make up lost ground (although they did push Purdue to 24-22 in the second set).
Purdue definitely felt Mohler’s absence in the box score, as they managed a significant edge in kills (63-48) but had 22 errors to EMU’s 17 and hit .304 to the Eagles’ .223. Eastern also outblocked the Boilers, 10.0-8.0, but the home team led in assists (59-47), aces (7/-2 to 3/-3), and digs (57-41).
Cleveland had a career night, posting 25 kills at .404, coming close to the leaderboard for a four-set match (the lowest total is 29 by three players, most recently Annie Drews, 9/19/2015 vs Notre Dame), and nearly getting a double-double by tying a career high with 9 digs. Cuttino and Newton added 10 kills each, Cuttino at .368 and Newton at .097, while Johnson (8 at .429), Bush (5 at .625) and Koch (4 at .429) all cleared the .400 mark. Bush got another double-double with a match-high 42 assists and 10 digs, second-best on the team behind Otec’s 16 and even with Hornung’s 10. Otec led all players with 3 aces (+1), while Cleveland (even) and Terwilliger (+1) added two each. Newton and Johnson each recorded a solo block, with Newton’s 4 assists giving her a team-high 3.0 total.
Eastern Michigan’s attack was led by redshirt senior MB/RS Cassie Haut, who had 19 kills at a solid .351; she and junior OH Franki Strefling (10 at .308) took advantage of the absence of the third-team All-American in the middle. Senior setter Riley Taylor (Perry Meridian HS) had 27 assists, with freshman setter Jayden Otto adding 12. Freshman OH Alayna Jansky (+1), freshman OH Samantha Basham (even) and senior libero Camille Schomer (even) had the Eagles’ three aces, with Schomer adding a team-high 13 digs and Strefling just missing a double-double with 9. Haut also had the only solo block and ended up with a match-high 3.5 total, just ahead of junior MB April Houston’s 3.0.
Hard to say - the season could go anywhere from here. If Mohler’s injury is mild, the impact could be somewhat minimal, and to be honest the upcoming weekend is the one conference weekend where Purdue is least likely to take a set, so if she’s going to miss some time, now’s the time for it. Hopefully she’ll be healthy by the following weekend, as the Boilers need to beat Northwestern and should probably take Illinois if they’re going to move up in the conference this season.
Then again, Cleveland was on fire against Eastern. If Johnson can hold her own in the middle, the Boilers might surprise … it’s just a lot to ask of a young team to lose arguably their best player and then go on the road to face two possible Final Four teams.
The old-school road trip to Wisconsin and Minnesota. The Gophers are their usual selves; after a surprise sweep by Florida State and an understandable one at Texas, Minnesota swept Florida and beat Stanford in four sets, so they’ll be ready. Wisconsin, on the other hand, could be anywhere from amazing to adequate - they’ve lost four matches, but all four are top-10 teams (Marquette, Baylor and Washington in Madison, then Washington again in Seattle), and they swept Florida State in their opener - in fact, they haven’t lost a set in the matches they’ve won. I’d expect them to be their usual selves, but you never know …
Photos for this weekend courtesy of Purdue Athletics. Look, it was a long weekend, OK? There were a number of folks out there, and sometimes it’s hard to credit everyone properly (on their side, that is; I’ll happily credit all of them if I could just get the names).