After an exciting win over Ohio State on national television Friday night, No. 11 Purdue returned to action at the IAF again on Saturday. The opponents just keep getting bigger, as this time, the powerful Nittany Lions from Penn State came to town. Unlike the previous three Big Ten matches, this one did not make it to five games. In retrospect, it would have been better had they done so, as the No. 2 Lions left the IAF with a three game win. Despite the loss, Purdue hinted that they were able to compete with a team of that caliber, and let PSU know they need to be ready to play again when Purdue shows up at their place later in the season.
Penn State was not underestimating the Boilers this weekend. Coming into the match, they knew Purdue was going to be a formidable opponent, and was capable of giving them a challenge. The chess match began even before they started playing. Purdue came out in warm-ups wearing their gold uniforms. Surprisingly, no one was wearing the
black uniform of the libero. Apparently, sneaky Coach Shondell did not want to tip his hand as to the starting lineup for the match too soon. It was only immediately before introductions that Kelli Miller put on the uniform, meaning Brittany Dildine would be in the lineup as a hitter.
It didn’t seem to matter, as Penn State played almost perfect volleyball in the first game. It was close (6–5) early, but Penn State pulled away for an overwhelming 30–12 win. As a fan, the only response to a game like that is to stand an awe of the opponent. For the most part, this was not a case of Purdue struggling, but was Penn State doing everything perfectly. You won’t see another team serve that effectively anywhere in college volleyball. Every serve either was just inside the sideline, and even if it was going out, it was too close to let it go by. Penn State’s passing, hitting, and blocking were also as perfect as can be. When a team that good plays that well, no one in the country could beat them. That is what happened in game one.
While the fan response may be to stand in awe of a great performance, the players cannot let that happen. To Purdue’s credit, they didn’t. After a miserable first game, the Boilers got things together in game two. It was mostly even throughout, as Penn State would use their height and long arms at the net to open a couple point lead, and Purdue would catch up behind the smart hitting of Brittany Dildine.
Finally, Penn State called a time out, as Purdue stood at game point, with a score of 29–28. Apparently, the directions in the time out were to get the ball to sophomore Nicholle Fawcett, and she got the next two kills for Penn State. A block by Penn State on game point gave Penn State the win, 31-29. After the disastrous game one, Purdue did a wonderful job of regrouping to play competitively in game two, even serving at game point. We will never know how the match would have changed had they been able to pull that one out.
By the time game three came around, it was clear that game one was an anomaly, and this match was turning into the dogfight everyone expected. The crowd of almost 2500 fans in the IAF (an IAF record!) started getting back into the match, and the energy of the Boiler Box returned.
Indeed, game three was some of the best volleyball ever played on Purdue’s campus. Purdue and Penn State traded powerful attacks, tough serving, and great floor defense, with neither team able to get a leg up on the other. Ultimately, Penn State was able to get occasional stops against Purdue, and a couple point advantage, going up 29–26. A quick point for Purdue was answered by a Penn State kill, and PSU won game three 30–27.
Coach Shondell is quick to emphasize that, at this level, there are no moral victories. However, there are things that we can observe from this performance. First, Penn State is a great volleyball team. They played very well for the entire match, not just game one. Purdue showed they can play against a team of this caliber. Assistant coach John Shondell noted, “We played better in games two and three than we did at any point last night (in the win over Ohio State)". In fact, the performance in games two and three indicated Purdue is capable of basically matching Penn State stride-for-stride. Unfortunately, it is not sufficient against this good of a team to simply walk with them. They are so good that they will get ahead of you at some point. Once you are two steps behind, the match is essentially over. Penn State will make a lot of very good teams look bad throughout this year, so the fact Purdue was able to compete, and even press them in game two, reflects positively on the progress the team has made.
In principle, the schedule gets a little easier this week, with matches against Indiana and Iowa. However, road matches in the Big Ten are never easy, and both teams look to be improved from last year. Therefore, the team needs to be ready to go for each. After another weekend on the road, the team returns to the Boiler Box on October 20th for a match against Illinois.
You can find detailed statistics in the box score for the match, which is available at www.purduesports.com.