So it Begins: #16 Purdue Volleyball

Juan Crespo

#16 Purdue hosts #4 USC in the 2013 Mortar Board Premier Friday night with a talented team and a chance to make a strong statement to start the new season.

Now that the season is upon us, let's start with the most obvious points first: Purdue lost an All-American talent to graduation in Ariel Turner, also USC is a very good team with very high expectations for itself this season.  Since we have that out of the way, we can move on to the important part, an introduction of the 16th ranked Purdue team we do have, and why fans should still be incredibly excited for the season.

Setters

#1 Rachel Davis 6'0" RS SR

Most fans are well acquainted with Rachel since she's a redshirt senior and has been a steady producer ever since Jaclyn Hart graduated.  Last year as a junior she averaged 9.46 assists/set to go with 2.34 digs/set.  The assist number ranked as 10th in the B1G and she posted double digit assists in all 34 matches.  Looking ahead to her senior year, she is going to continue keeping the offense running smoothly and one would expect her numbers to stay on the up-swing, but with the caveat that she may split setting duties more often with Valerie Nichol than she did last year as Purdue looks to stay flexible.

#2 Val Nichol 6'1" JR

It may be a slightly disingenuous for me to list Val with the setters, but only a little.  After playing well in limited minutes at outside hitter as a freshman, Val came back last year as one of the highest ceiling players on the roster.  The Val Nichol setter project spent most of last year as a work in progress, but her athleticism and upside give good reason to believe that after another year of improvement she should be able to complement Rachel Davis and allow the team to play with 2 setters at any given time without losing any hitting ability.  Val has also spent time with USA Volleyball, and there's no reason that her experience will do anything but advance her skills to a higher level this year.  I would be remiss if I didn't mention that she really is a very solid outside hitter, with good leaping ability and a couple different shots that can throw off the timing of any defense.

#5 Ashley Evans 6'1" FR

She's going to redshirt.  That being said, she looks like a player who in the future is going to be a major contributor.  Like Nichol, Evans has the ability to play both as a setter or an outside hitter, and a redshirt could be exactly what she needs to hone her setting skills to the next level.  Evans comes in as the 21st ranked player in her class, so it looks like the high expectations are more than warranted (just not yet).

Middle Blockers

#12 Kiki Jones 6'1" JR

Kiki Jones is the main known quantity among the middle blockers.  Luckily for Purdue she's a very good known quantity and if you're taking bets, she's probably only going to keep getting better.  Her freshman season saw her named to the B1G All-Freshman team, with very impressive blocking numbers.  At 1.22 blocks/set, Kiki ranked 5th in the B1G and 44th in the nation that year.  Last year she ranked second on the team with a still-impressive .95 blocks/set.  In addition she raised her kills/set to 1.86 and led the team by hitting .360 on the year.  Like Val Nichol, Kiki saw some action with USA Volleyball and it wouldn't shock me this year to see her blocks back over 1/set and her kills to get over 2/set.  Blessed with long arms and excellent timing, Kiki Jones is a player to keep watching.

#16 Kaisley Fisher 6'3" RS SO

Kaisley saw time in only 9 matches last year, but in those matches she averaged 1.09 blocks/set (16 blocks, 15 sets) and she showed some hitting ability as well with 5 kills against Rice.  This year, look for Kaisley to get significantly more playing time as she is the only listed middle blocker other than Kiki Jones who has any real experience.

#13 Faye Adelaja 6'1" RS FR

Faye was a 2 time all-state selection in Louisiana her last two years of highschool, and she redshirted all of last year at Purdue.  As such, there really isn't a ton of information on her, but as previously mentioned, the lack of depth at middle blocker is probably going to mean that she sees action sporadically at least.

Outside Hitters

#18 Annie Drews 6'4" SO

Annie Drews might just be my favorite player to watch on this entire squad.  The towering lefty was one of the most productive hitters on the team last year as a freshman, averaging 2.14 kills/set.  With Annie's height and length, she is able to throw off defenders' timing with a windup that has her raise her right arm before her left arm crashes down on the poor unsuspecting ball, launching it into the opponent's court at a speed most other hitters can't even dream of.  In short, she's got a cannon.  Projecting Annie's 2013 season is interesting because she has many of the aspects that the team could use to replace some of Ariel Turner's production.  On the other hand, Annie's height and hops might lead to her seeing time at middle blocker should the team need a bit more depth at times.

#4 Sam Epenesa 6'0" SO

Sam was one of the other freshmen to see action last year, playing in 12 matches.  A little bit undersized, Sam's place on the depth chart might fluctuate a bit depending on her form, but from everything I've seen she strikes me as being a very solid player who will produce when called upon for all 4 years.  With that said, I won't place a ceiling on her quite yet.  She came in ranked as the #33 player in her class and technique plus jumping ability can make up for another inch or so of height.  This year I would expect Sam to play a fair amount, but if she starts, either she's made a jump (which is what I will be rooting for) or someone else is in the doghouse.

#10 Katie Griffin 6'2" RS SR

In an odd twist of fate, Katie Griffin has seen her playing time decrease each year since her freshman year when she played in 32 matches and averaged 1.88 kills/set.  I'm confident in saying that her senior year will not continue that trend.  Another player who will be tasked with filling the void left by Ariel Turner, Katie's ability to jump and hit will probably see her take the spot as the 2nd or 3rd hitter off the bench depending on how things shake out.

#17 Catherine Rebarchak 6'2" RS SR

Catherine is my pick to be the 2nd outside hitter on the depth chart behind Annie Drews (and maybe 3rd behind Val Nichol, depending on the day and strategy the team uses).  Last year she played in 29 matches, starting 10 and averaged 2.20 kills/set which was second on the team, so she may well be the number 1 OH for the majority of the season.  Over her past 3 years, Catherine has been very productive and her first two years she started 27 of 32 and 33 of 34 matches that she appeared in respectively.  A very fluid player, she moves well and has the ability to be a very good server when she's on.

Defensive Specialists

#3 Hillary Fox 6'1" SR

To be fair to Hillary she's listed as both DS and OH, but it's looking like most of her minutes will come in the back.  She played in 24 matches last year, starting 17 and her sophomore year she played in 23 matches, so she has plenty of experience.  That experience may come in handy if any of the young backline defenders struggle to adjust to the speed of the game early in the season.

#7 Amanda Neill 5'8" SO

As a freshman, Amanda played in 20 matches and averaged 2.23 dig/set which is a good sign going forward.  She also served 13 aces last year which will come in handy since she could be in line for even more playing time this season.  If one of the next two ladies doesn't beat her out that is.

#6 Kate Workman 5'6" RS FR

#19 Bridget Powell 5'6" RS FR

I wouldn't say that these two are complete question marks because I've heard nothing but good things about them ever since they showed up on campus, but the depth the team has at DS is still pretty impressive.  Kate, Bridget, and Amanda will all vie for playing time in the back, but it's up to Coach Shondell's discretion to decide which of these talented players gets to see time throughout the year.

#11 Carly Cramer 5'6" RS SR

Last but the polar opposite of least, we come to Carly Cramer.  If it feels like Carly has been here forever, well, it's because she pretty much has.  I know it approaches sacrilege in some circles to say, but Carly in many ways is the Robbie Hummel of Purdue Volleyball.  As a freshman she played in 30 matches and started 17 of them, as a a sophomore she played in 35 matches while starting 32 of them while averaging 3.97 digs/set, as a junior she was only able to play in 10 matches before she was forced to undergo season ending shoulder surgery, and last year Carly started 33 matches, led the team with 36 aces, and averaged a team best 4.23 digs/set.  Carly is another personal favorite to watch because she epitomizes a Boilermaker by throwing her body around, playing intelligently, and leaving it all on the court.  As it really is her final season at Purdue I know that she and the team will be motivated to send her out with a bang and make another run in the NCAA tournament.

The only other thing I would add is that stylistically this year's team might look a little different from teams in the past because many of the players are so versatile that we might see some offensive sets that the team didn't have the pieces in place to run last year (i.e. playing with 2 setters more often) so be on the lookout for that as well.

1800 words really doesn't do justice to these players who are looking to keep Purdue's tradition of success going on the volleyball court, but to understand in reality you'll all just have to come out and watch the team play.  Which you probably should be doing anyway.

Info on tonight's student section callout can be found here

An excellent preview of this weekend's Mortar Board Premier released by the Athletic Department can be found here.

For a USC specific take on this weekend's matches I highly advise articles here and here (spoiler alert, USC is #4 in the country for a very good reason)

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