The Road to Louisville starts TONIGHT! The #9 Boilermakers kick off the season tonight against #21 Northern Iowa in the Mortar Board Premier. For those who will be going to the game, you will get to see Boiler Paulie and I work the game as members of Mortar Board. I just pray I don't get towel boy duties, because I know my friends will call me out for it. Sadly, we must keep a "neutral perspective" when helping this weekend and not show our Purdue favoritism. Since I will only be at the Friday night game, my next opportunity to cheer in person won't be until the Ankle Active Challenge from September 14th-15th in Mackey Arena. James will offer a recap of the Saturday games, while I recap the Northern Iowa game.
Northern Iowa is a dangerous team who has made it to the NCAA Tournament a few times, including last year when they earned the 6th seed (right behind Purdue) after going undefeated in the Missouri Valley Conference before being upset by Florida at home in the 2nd Round of the Tournament.The UNI Panthers are hungry after their record breaking season ended too short, and would love to upset Purdue in front of its home fans to start off the season. However, they will have to avoid the dangerous Purdue attack as well if they want to pull off the upset tonight.
2011 Record: 33-2, 18-0 Missouri Valley Conference
NCAA Result: #6 Seed, Lost 3-1 to Florida in 2nd Round
Last Meeting: 2010 Mortar Board Premier (August 28th). UNI 3, Purdue 2
UNI is led by Head Coach Bobbi Petersen, who enters her 13th year leading the Panthers Volleyball team. During her tenure at UNI, she has posted a record of 322-78 (0.805), with 5 MVC regular season titles, 7 MVC tournament titles, and 2 NCAA Sweet 16 appearances, as she has led the Panthers to 20 or more wins every season except her first season, and hasn't lost 10 or more games per season since 2007. Petersen ranks in the Top 10 in terms of winning percentages among active Division I Women's Volleyball coaches. Along with Petersen, she has two experienced Assistant Coaches in Kalani Mahi and Kim Davis, who have been at UNI for 9 and 11 years respectively.
In 2011, UNI won its first 9 games, including against eventual Final Four team Florida State before losing to Minnesota in 5 sets for their only regular season lose. Though the MVC isn't as competitive as the Big Ten or Pac-12, to go undefeated in your conference is a difficult task to accomplish with the pressure of being perfect. Their lose to Florida at home in the 2nd Round was truly, in the words of Gus Johnson, Heartbreak City. The Panthers out killed the Gators 58-49, but committed a costly 30 hitting errors to Florida's 11, as UNI had a hitting percentage of only 0.187. Though the Panthers could only get 14 points in both the 2nd and 3rd sets, they didn't go down until the very end of the 4th set and only lost by 3 points (25-22), but having 11 errors in one set will kill you in any sport.
Back in 2010 when UNI last played Purdue, it was a close game until the very end when they beat Purdue in the 5th set 19-17. Purdue could have won it in the 4th set, but let the game slip away and started off the 5th set down 6-1. Though Purdue managed to tie the set at 13 a piece and then a 17-17 tie, ultimately UNI had just enough energy from Michelle Burrow to defeat Purdue.
Though UNI lost a few players to graduation, they return 5 seniors and 3 juniors to lead a very talented and experienced squad that ended last season with a hitting percentage of 0.251 (Purdue finished with a 0.266 percentage). Northern Iowa will come in tonight hungry for victory and redemption for their early tournament exit last season. However, Purdue's upperclassmen still has recollection of 2010 defeat in the minds, so they will use this game as a chance to get revenge for the upset they nearly had. Though UNI will be a tough opponent for Purdue tonight, Purdue's talented and veteran players, with the help of one of the strongest home court advantages in the country, will be able to push through the Panthers tonight and start off the season with an impressive victory.
Prediction: Purdue 3, Northern Iowa: 1 (at least 3 close sets)