When Purdue beat #4 and then undefeated Missouri last week in Columbia, it may have been a shocker and upset on paper, but to anyone familiar with college volleyball, it was anything but a surprise, as noted in this ESPNW article. The Big Ten is a beast in volleyball, perhaps even larger than the SEC in football.
And tonight, as 7 B1G teams enter the Sweet 16 (8 entered the tournament), 4 of them will face another conference opponent. Michigan State and Penn State will be battling it out in Lexington tonight. Anything short of the Final 4 is a disappointment in Happy Valley, so expect the Nittany Lions to get work done this weekend. But MSU is no easy task, as they beat the Lions in 5 sets in State College at the beginning of conference play. Penn State got their revenge later in the year in East Lansing, but a 5 set loss, especially one at home, always leaves a sour taste in your mouth. I expect the Lions to win a close 3-1 battle against MSU.
In the other Big Ten match-up, it's our own Boilermakers taking on the gritty Illini of Illinois (not sure if "gritty" is the right word to use in volleyball, but heck I'll go with it). Match ups between these two squads are always instant classics, and no one escapes with an easy victory. Purdue beat the Illini 3-1 in Mackey Arena earlier this year, but Illinois got their revenge back in Champaign later on. Illinois has had the luxury of playing at home 2 weekends in a row through the tournament so far, but Purdue looks to spoil their fun and looks to win this rubber match between these two talented squads.
Illinois is led by its talented RS Sophomore Jocelynn Birks, who has recorded nearly 500 kills and 300 digs throughout this season. Flanking Birks include Liz McMahon and Morganne Criswell, who have over 600 kills combined this season, with support from Maddie Mayers and Anna Dorn. Illinois also features a great middle blocking core and a strong back court, so getting the ball to fall on the opposite side of the court will not be an easy task for the Boilermakers tonight.
It will be a tough match for the Boilermakers tonight, as the unknowns of volleyball in State Farm Arena (formerly Assembly Hall) will come out in full force tonight, looking to knock off the Boilermakers. If Purdue wants to win, they need to remain tough, but also move on from their upset of Missouri from last week. If they can force Illinois to make mistakes and move around their blocks, they can win this game, but it will be a bigger challenge than last week in Columbia. For Illinois, continue to block shots and pump up the crowd early. The sooner they can get home court advantage working for them, the easier the wins will be this weekend.
espnW -- Five burning questions for NCAA women's volleyball regionals
This weekend, the 16 surviving Division I women's volleyball teams will be whittled down to the four that get to end their seasons in Seattle.