If somehow you missed the message in the title, there are only 100 more days until Purdue Volleyball opens the season on August 24th against potential Top-15 team Northern Iowa in the Annual Mortar Board Premier. Even though the football team is looking to have a good year, the best and most exciting team at Purdue (in my humblest and biased opinion) is already getting ready to make another run to the Final Four on the Road to Louisville. Though last season ended sooner than expected with a Sweet 16 loss against eventual Final Four team Florida State, Purdue can have home court advantage all the way to the Final Four this year as Mackey Arena is set to host the West Lafayette Regional (along with Nebraska, Texas, and California-Berkley each hosting a regional). Though it seemed like the stars were aligned to win a National Championship last season, this upcoming season is Purdue's best chance to go all the way under Shondell, with a veteran led squad looking to finish the season with the program's first National Title.
There are doubts coming into the 2012 season, however. Purdue did struggle at times with ball securityand passing, which cost them a few games (including the FSU loss), so how do they respond this season, especially after losing Bashen and Ehlers to graduation? Carly Cramer was one of the best defensive specialists in the Big Ten, perhaps even the nation, before she was forced to sit out the rest of the season due to a season ending injury, will she be healthy enough to return to where she was at the beginning of last season? Will the rest of the players, like Miller, Fox, and Gosewisch, learn from the previous season and be able to effectively take control of the floor and improve on last season's mistakes?
Another problem last year was the dependence on Ariel Turner; granted she is a First Team All-American and returning B1G Player of the Year, but problems arose when opposing teams found ways to stop her (like Penn State and Florida State). Will other outside hitters and middle blockers, like Nichol, Jones, Drewry and Rebarchak, be able to step up and fill her void in those game day situations, or are they going to let Turner continue to swing endlessly until she can finally get around the defense, even if it is late into the game? And of course, where do the freshmen come into play? Shondell brings in 6 new freshmen to West Lafayette, 3 hitters/middle blockers and 3 defensive specialists, but who will actually make a contribution this year, and who will end up redshirting this season?
These are the big questions and concerns going into the 2012 season, but within the next 100 days, Coach Shondell and the volleyball squad will answer these questions and solve any problems before their match-up against Northern Iowa. Speaking of that August 24th match-up, this is my current projection at the starting line-up for the beginning of the season:
My Projected Starting Line-Up:
Setter: Rachel Davis
Outside Hitters: Ariel Turner & Val Nichol
Middle Blockers: Anna Drewry & Kiki Jones
Defensive Specialist: Carly Cramer
Libero: Amanda Miller
Many of these positions are carrying over from the previous season, such as Davis, Turner, Nichol and Jones, and really should be no surprise. I could see possibly Rebarchak or even Griffin taking one of these, but it seems like Shondell is very confident in these players. In his post-spring season interview, Shondell noted that Drewry was one of the best players during the spring games, and I think she will take Tiffany Fisher's old spot at middle blocker. This is especially good news after she tore her ACL in the 2nd Round of the NCAA Tournament back in 2010, and seemed to not be 100% healthy last season, but I am willing to bet that this season, she will live up to her old nickname of "boom boom".
Perhaps what may shock some of you is who I have placed at libero. Personally, I am still a little pessimistic about Carly Cramer and her recovery from last year's injury, as she hardly played in the spring due to another small injury, and she is recovering much slower than expected. It's impossible to have 2 liberos in a match and switch them in the middle of a set (sorry, Danny Hope), so as it looks now, I think Shondell will go with Amanda Miller at libero and still have Cramer be a starter, but allow other DS (like Fox, Goose, or a freshman) to take her place if-need-be. Miller was libero during the spring games, and I thought she played well when I saw the spring game against NCAA Tournament team and A-10 Champ Dayton (it was the same day as the spring game, shame on you if you left Ross Ade to go to the bars instead of watching a fine volleyball match). She has come a long way from her huge accident, and is no longer wearing her protective helmet to prevent future concussions. So as it looks now, I think Miller will be libero as the season begins.
Unlike previous seasons, Purdue will have a challenging non-conference schedule against some of the best teams in the nation, along with the daunting task of facing the other 11 Big Ten teams in what is considered the best conference in the nation (shut up, Pac-12, no one asked for your opinion). Here are some of the games to look forward to this season:
August 24th: Northern Iowa (Mortar Board Premier)
August 31st: Washington (Tiger Classic at Baton Rouge, LA)
September 7th-8th: Louisville and Cincinnati (Big Ten/Big East Challenge, Cincinnati, OH)
September 14th-15th: Active Ankle Challenge (played in Mackey Arena)
September 29th: Illinois
October 5th: Nebraska
October 6th: Our Most Hated Rival
October 17th: at Indiana (Monon Spike Trophy Game)
October 27th: Michigan State (Dig Pink Game)
November 17th: Penn State (Get Wacky in Mackey)
November 21st: Indiana (Monon Spike Trophy Game)
November 23rd: Wisconsin (Senior Night)
Also, just as T-Mill does countdowns to football and basketball, I will be doing the same for volleyball. Here's what you can expect:
50 days: Shondell and his coaching staff
40 days: Non-conference schedule preview
30 days: Big Ten schedule preview
25 days: Incoming Freshman class* (tentative)
20 days: Anna Drewry
17 days: Catherine Rebarchak
16 days: Kaisley Fisher
15 days: Courtney Gosewisch
12 days: Kierra Jones
11 days: Carly Cramer
10 days: Katie Griffen
9 days: Amanda Miller
8 days: Ariel Turner
3 days: Hiliary Fox
2 days: Val Nichol
1 day: Rachel Davis
*If I find out what numbers each freshman player will receive before this date, I will give them their own separate article.
Also, I feel like rewarding those who have read this whole article with this message purposely placed at the bottom. I have discussed this with TMill and I have his blessing to do this. I am looking for an Assistant Volleyball Correspondent for the 2012 season. As much as I love doing this, I can no longer do this job alone, especially as I try to expand the volleyball coverage. The main reason why is because I am going to be a Residents Assistant at Hilltop Apartments this coming school year, which also happens to be my senior year in Atmospheric Science. Along with my other requirements at St. Thomas Aquinas, my research projects and Mortar Board, I will be very busy and I already know I won't be able to make it to numerous games. I know volleyball won't be as popular as football and basketball on this site, but my goal is to reach the same popularity baseball has received this year (granted winning your first Big Ten Title in 103 years will naturally draw in a crowd), but this also means keeping volleyball active on the site. Along with that, it's nice to have two different perspectives on the team and a game instead of just Juan.
I am looking for someone who is passionate about volleyball, someone who can make it to a majority of the games this season, and someone who can take criticism well about their writing and be able to use that criticism to improve (no "what-if" articles, this isn't the Indy-Star). Also, it would be a plus if you are already familiar with Hammer and Rails and its environment. A huge plus would be someone who can do this for at least 2 years and possibly take my position when I graduate in 2013 (not a requirement, but just a benefit in the long run).
Please do not email me yet, as I will create an application and possibly have interviews, depending on the applicants (yes I am that serious). If you are interested, expect the application to open sometime in June or July. Once I narrow down any candidates that apply and make my final selection, I will have you get in contact with TMill where he will approve you to be an author on the site. Again, keep an eye out for the application, as it will probably be open for about a week this summer.
It is going to be a great volleyball season in West Lafayette, and I hope all of you are able to witness this squad travel on the Road to Louisville.