When the 2011 season started, there was a lot of promise for a successful season and a potential Final Four run. As the season progressed, Purdue received more attention from national media after beginning the season 14-0 with wins over tournament teams such as Ball State, Cincinnati, and Michigan. But Purdue took a hit before the Louisville match in Champaign when Carly Cramer was lost to a stress fracture and would ultimately redshirt for the season. Cramer was vital in Purdue’s backcourt at libero and had great ball handling skills. Purdue continued on, despite losing tough matches at Illinois and at Nebraska, Purdue refused to go down. Ball handling continued to be an issue from time to time, but with hitters like Turner and Fisher, they were almost able to make up for these mistakes.
Purdue finally cracked into the Top 10 with its 10 game winning streak during conference play, which included victories over Top 5 teams Illinois and Nebraska. After finishing the season tied 2nd in the Big Ten, Purdue earned a Top 5 seed in the tournament and was favored to advance to the Final Four and even win the National Title. The bracket looked favorable, but as Coach Shondell said at the viewing party, "every team says their match ups are favorable."
After beating Morehead State and Louisville in the 1st 2 rounds, Purdue moved on to the Sweet 16 for the second straight year. Unlike last year, Purdue was top dog while Florida State smelled an upset. It certainly looked like Purdue was on their way to a victory while up 21-13 in the 1st set, but then it all collapsed as the Seminoles attacked. Sure, we can blame one or two players for a few lost points, but when you finish the set on the losing end of a 12-4 run, the entire team is to blame. Purdue committed 10 total errors in the 1st set alone, 4 of them during FSU’s 12-4 run. Purdue had a tough time coming out in the 2nd set, but was able to put away FSU 25-21 and seemed to shake off the choke in the 1st set. But in reality, Florida State already had plenty of momentum, and Purdue’s ball handling errors caught up to them tonight.
The 3rd and 4th sets were back-and-forth throughout a majority of them, but in the end, FSU was able to capitalize on Purdue’s errors to pull off the upset. FSU outhit Purdue in the last 2 sets 0.424 to 0.216 (Purdue’s best hit % on the night), and 0.207 to 0.067 (the worst of a set all season). Ariel Turner possibly had the worst night of her career as FSU’s Top 15 blocking defense held her to 16 kills and a 0.105 hitting percentage. Meanwhile, Tiffany Fisher shined in her last game as a Boilermaker with 15 kills and a team high 0.375 hitting percentage. Out of Purdue’s 202 total attacks, Ariel Turner had 76 of them, and no one else was even close. Though Turner is amazing and certainly an All-American, depending on Turner was one reason why Purdue fell short this evening. Another was that we could just not stop the Seminole Attack. 5 Florida State players finished with 10 to 11 kills each, as #14 Ashley Neff contributed 11 kills and posted a 0.529 hitting percentage, leading all hitters.
Even though this season was great, only one word can describe tonight’s performance: disappointing. Outside of Tiffany Fisher, almost every other player had their worst performance of the year. It seemed like no one had the heart to win the game, and almost expected the win to be given to them and that they would just walk into the Final Four for the first time in school history. Since the Ohio State match back in November, Amanda Miller has been subbing in for Rebarchak to serve (mostly due to Cat’s service errors) and has played very well coming off the bench. But for some reason, Shondell decided after pull her and replace Miller with Hillary Fox. I said this in the Open Thread, when Fox stepped onto the court and committed a service error is when the 1st set choking began (but like I said earlier, the choke was a failure on the whole team). There were a few bad digs on behalf of Fox that did cost Purdue precious points that could have been controlled by other players, she did commit 3 service errors, but did have 3 service aces (both were most on the team). Also, Senior Emily Ehlers had her worse performance of the year for the last game of her college career. I honestly lost count how many times she got burned on those corner kills from FSU, and it is certainly is a shame to see her college career end this way. I can continue on how each player had their worst performance, but in the end, volleyball is a team sport and the team as a whole failed to show up in Minneapolis tonight.
I don’t know what it is about Minneapolis, but I hate it. I’ve never been there, but I think I will avoid that dreaded city from now on. Robbie tore his ACL there, basketball experienced that bad lose last year, and the volleyball team can’t seem to win there. Also, as a Packers fan and part owner, I hate how Favre decided to call that place home for two years, but I digress.
There is nothing Shondell’s squad can do now; we can only look forward to next season. We do lose Ehlers, T Fisher and Bashen to graduation, but Purdue brings back a talented group of players, including Carly Cramer once she recovers from her injury, and All-American Ariel Turner. Along with the returners, Purdue brings in a talented freshmen class next year that will certainly look to contribute as much as Kiki and Val did this year. If there is one thing I hope Shondell works on during the off season, let’s all hope it is ball control.
One final note, I just want to thank T-Mill and everyone else for giving me the chance this fall to bring volleyball to Hammer and Rails. Who would have ever thought that we could get an open thread with over 300 comments on a Friday night that dealt with volleyball? You guys have been an amazing audience, and I have appreciated all the feedback I had received since August. I have learned a lot, especially when it comes to writing (us science majors don’t have the best grammatical skills at times). Now that Purdue Volleyball is over for the season, I won’t be posting as much until August when the season begins again, with the exception of fan shots that deal with volleyball or other Purdue sports. Until then, I’ll see you in God’s Country cheering loud and proud for our Boilermakers.