Volleyball Preview: Pure Michigan Style

Michigan Co-Captain Brittany Lee via grfx.cstv.com

Before I start, since I did not get to do a summary of the Active Ankle Challenge games, I wasn't able to mention that Coach Shondell earned his 200th career win at Purdue and in his collegiate coaching career.

After sweeping an extremely competitive a rather mundane Active Ankle Challenge last week, Purdue continued to drop in the polls, down to #17 as teams like Kansas State and Pepperdine jumped them in this weeks Coaches Poll. If last weekend was a must win weekend, then this weekend needs to be a statement weekend as the play at #25 Michigan State and at Michigan (who just fell out of the polls).

The road has not been kind to Purdue this season, or in recent seasons as well. Purdue's 2 losses came to now #5 Washington and #10 Louisville, who both swept Purdue in neutral(ish) locations. These games worry me because Purdue has not been playing at the level they were expected to play at when the season began. I am not expert on volleyball, I just write about what happens, and in my opinion, only Coach Shondell can tell you what is truly going right and wrong on the volleyball team. I can tell you this though, the team is not doing two things well so far this season: preventing the ball from hitting the court on their end, and getting the ball over the net and onto the floor within the paint of their opponents.

Purdue will face tough opponents this weekend in East Lansing and in Ann Arbor, but I am expecting a win in a least likely place.

Michigan State ended last season without a post season appearance and started out the season looking in from the outside. These Spartans were tired of being looked down upon and have started out the season 12-0, their 3rd best start in conference history. The big player for Michigan State is Lauren Wicinski, who just transferred from Northern Illinois, where she the fastest in MAC history to reach 1,000 kills (54 matches, 2 seasons) as she led the nation in points (6.18) and kills (5.34) per set her sophomore year. In her first year playing in East Lansing, her talent hasn't slowed down one bit, as she has racked up 4.55 kills per set so far, and has earned over 20 kills in a game 3 times. Purdue will have a tough time slowing her down, as she has given a once dead Spartan team new life. Considering how Purdue has not been kind to MSU in the last couple of seasons, I expect them seeing tonight's game as a statement/revenge game, and Purdue will have a tough time slowing down their momentum on their home court.

Michigan State: 3, Purdue: 1

Lately, the Purdue/Michigan Volleyball games have been close contests, especially last season's 2 match ups. The first match up was the 2nd game of conference play as Michigan came into West Lafayette, as both teams were undefeated heading into that night's match. The first two sets were won by Purdue, but very closely and at times questionably. I still remember in the 2nd set when Purdue hit the ball, went just out of bounds in front of the Michigan bench and coach, but the line judge called it in. Michigan's head coach, Mark Rosen, would have none of it, took the ball, and slammed it on the ground where he thought the ball landed (and he was actually spot on correct), leading him to get a warning and allowing Purdue to carry the momentum and win another close set. Coming out of halftime, Michigan had lost all of its momentum and just collapsed in the 3rd set, allowing Purdue to sweep them and continue being undefeated. This game ended up being a turning point for Michigan, as the Wolverines went on to go 8-12 in Big Ten Conference play (but still managed to get into the NCAA Tourney and remain ranked most of the season).

The second game of the season took place the night before the football team played Michigan in Ann Arbor, as the 1st 4 sets were split between the two teams and leading to an exciting 5th set. Michigan managed to take a late lead and earn match point at 14-12. However, Purdue rallied to make it 14-14, but Michigan got match point again at 15-14 and 16-15 as Purdue didn't surrender. During Michigan's match points, Coach Shondell had said he was already thinking about what he was going to say to the team after the hard fought loss. But Purdue's "Never say die" attitude showed, as they earned 3 straight blocks and shocked the Wolverines by winning the set 18-16.

This season, Michigan had a strong start but has had a few losses that will keep the Michigan Faithful questioning their team. Michigan has some strong outside hitters, such as Lexi Erwin and Molly Toon, who will give Purdue a challenge. Purdue does one advantage for Saturday's game though. Michigan will be playing at Notre Dame at 7:30pm, and the volleyball game starts at 7:00pm. So though some fans will be present at least for the first set, I don't think Michigan will have as big of a home court advantage as most of their fans will be watching the football game instead. Perhaps that school up in South Bend did do something right for once.

I think Michigan will challenge Purdue, but Michigan is still recovering from last season and are not playing at the level Michigan fans expect from them. Expect a close game, but I think Purdue can win this one.

Purdue: 3, Michigan: 2

Also, don't forget to vote for Ariel Turner for the Lowe's Senior Class Award!

Turner Named Senior CLASS Award Candidate - PURDUESPORTS.COM - Purdue Official Athletic Site
A leader on the court and in the classroom, senior outside hitter Ariel Turner is one of 30 candidates chosen for the 2012 Senior CLASS Award, which honors student-athletes for their achievements in community, classroom, character and competition.

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