Another Big Ten match, another five-game match. After leaving the barns burned with two tough five-game matches against feisty teams in Michigan last week, the No. 11 ranked Purdue volleyball team came home to the more friendly IAF for a match Friday night. Unfortunately, the task wasn't any easier as the opponent was No. 13 Ohio State, and the eyes of the country were on the newly renovated Boiler Box as ESPN2 was on hand to broadcast the match.
Over two and a half hours later, ecstatic Boiler fans cheered "Boiler Up!" as they were leaving the gym after another amazing Purdue five-game, comeback win. An hour before the match, you could feel the tension in the IAF. Fans familiar with the old gym immediately noticed the new incandescent lighting, installed for the TV broadcast (albeit now permanent), creating an almost eerie atmosphere. However, you could also feel the energy of anticipation in the air with a buzz throughout the gym, ESPN cameras stationed throughout, and a highly anticipated match between two nationally ranked teams on center stage.
Purdue started strong, jumping out to a quick lead in game one, with three quick kills by middle blocker Stephanie Lynch. By the first television timeout, Purdue led 15-11. However, it faded quickly as serving and ball handling errors got Ohio State back into the game. After Buckeye Danielle Meyer served a pair of aces, Ohio State was in the lead 20-19. Ohio State stretched the lead to 25-22, before a backrow spike from Danita Merlau and a slick cross court shot by Carrie Gurnell brought Purdue to within a point. An OSU hitting error, a service ace by Kelli Miller, and a big block by Lynch and Merlau gave Purdue a two point lead. After a quick OSU point, Purdue ran off three quick points, with Lizzie Jacques tipping the ball in for the game winner and a score of 30-26.
Purdue attacked very effectively in the first game, but the big difference was in blocks. Purdue outblocked OSU 7-2. OSU's Ami Stevens handled Purdue's normally very tough serving very well, whereas Purdue tended to struggle at times with Ohio St's serves.
After being nicely in control in the last part of the first game, Purdue came out to start the second game and completely fell apart. Poor service reception limited the Boiler offensive attack, and gave Ohio State a lot of open shots. Ohio State had scored on 11 of its first 16 spike attempts, and Purdue dug a big hole, falling behind 11-3. Eight points is a pretty big deficit to try to overcome in rally scoring volleyball, but Purdue clawed their way back in, and even took a 27-26 lead at one point. Lacking a timeout to keep things settled, Purdue could not stop Ohio State from running a string of points. The game ended with Ohio State winning 30-27.
The feeling after the break was that, outside of that stretch at the beginning where Purdue could not do anything right, Purdue outplayed the Buckeyes again. Therefore, if Purdue would come out of the break ready to go, and just play our game, Purdue should be ok. Coach Shondell made one minor change at the break, switching Kelli Miller, who had been pretty well bottled up at the hitter spot, to libero. Brittany Dildine moved from libero into the hitting role. Unfortunately, Ohio State had different ideas about the match. Even though Purdue did not have the problems that plagued them in game two, the Buckeyes still pulled ahead 15-10 by the TV timeout. Both teams were hitting the lights out at this point, and there wasn't a lot of defense. Ohio State pulled out to a six point lead (20-14) on an ace, before Purdue started coming back. Ohio State got a couple of points and stood at game point in game three, 29-26, before Merlau got a kill for Purdue off the blockers' hands. Down 27-29, Merlau served a ball that hit the top of the net. It was almost like time stood and the game was in slow motion as the ball creeped over the net and hit the floor for an ace. The next serve ticked the net again, but was played by Ohio State until Sami Mader slammed one home to tie the match at 29. However, the comeback fell a little short, as Ohio State got a couple more points to win 31-29.
At this point in the match, the statistics showed Purdue to be completely dominating the Buckeyes. Purdue's hitting percentage was almost 100 points higher, and Purdue was outblocking, outdigging, and even outserving Ohio State. However, Purdue still trailing two games to one, and were on the brink of losing.
Game four was more of the same. Teams traded points for a while. Coming out of a timeout at a 17-17 tie, Ohio State pulled ahead 22-18. After Ohio State setter Marisa Main found an open corner on the court, Ohio State led 25-19, and it felt like Purdue was going to lose control of the match. Then, the magic happened for the third game in a row. Purdue got to 25-20 on an Ohio State service error. Senior Britany Dildine started the train rolling with two aces. More points on her serve, and Purdue came back to tie the score at 26. Teams traded a couple of points, and after OSU missed a connection on a set, Purdue had game point at 29-28. But OSU wouldn't give up that easily. After Merlau's back row attack went long, OSU went to serve for match point. Mader would have none of it, and pounded one with authority to tie the match back at 31. OSU got back to the lead, and another match point, but Lynch took the set and sent it home. Dildine served another ace to put Purdue in the lead. Then an OSU hitting error gave Purdue a game 4 win, 34-32.
On to game five.
After going 0-5 in five-game matches last year, Purdue is 4-0 in them already this year, so they go in with a lot of confidence. Purdue walked onto the court in game five like they owned it, and, indeed, they did. Whereas Ohio State was handling the Purdue serving pretty well in game one, by game five the relentless attack started to wear on the Buckeye defenders. Everything went right from the start, as Purdue jumped to a quick 5-2 lead, then built it to 9-3, and went on win 15-7.
A Boiler Box crowd of 2136 fans sang "Hail Purdue" with the team, and, as indicated previously, cheered "Boiler Up!" as they left the gym. The excitement took a while to settle down, as the players were slow to leave the court, spending time with parents, fans (including former Purdue standout Leah Wischmeier who was on-hand for the match) and the occasional media representative. An amazing comeback from a team that never gives up. Purdue fell behind late in each of the first four games, coming back in all of them. That kind of heart is certainly important to succeed in the highly competitive Big Ten.
You can find detailed statistics in the box score for the match, which is available at www.purduesports.com.