For those of you counting at home, Purdue Volleyball is ranked 13th in the country right now following two 5 set thrillers in the state of Michigan. This weekend brings an exciting second round of Big Ten foes when Northwestern (11-2, 0-2 Big Ten) and #21 Illinois (7-5, 1-1 Big Ten) come to the friendly confines of Holloway Gymnasium Friday and Saturday respectively.
Match 1: #13 Purdue vs Northwestern, West Lafayette, 7pm Friday
Northwestern started out the season 11-0, but lost their first two B1G matches to Wisconsin and Minnesota, so the first priority for Purdue is obviously to avoid being a bounce back game for a team that desperately doesn't want to fall to 0-3 in conference play.
Northwestern's offense is led by outside hitter, Stephanie Holthus who paces the team with 4.31 kills per set. The Wildcats are also directed on offense and defense by their setter, Madalyn Shalter who leads the team with 3.67 digs per set as well as 11.73 assists per set.
For Purdue to take care of business they will need to use their size advantage, especially on the outside. Holthus stands at 5'11" and the team as a whole only has 3 players 6'1" or taller (as opposed to Purdue's 8). My prediction is that we may see large doses of Annie Drews on the outside in an effort to overwhelm Northwestern's athletic hitters with pure size on the defensive side.
Shondell Scouts Northwestern Match (via purduesports)
Prediction: Purdue 3 Northwestern 1
Match 2: #13 Purdue vs #21 Illinois, West Lafayette, 8pm Friday
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Illinois may be just 7-5, but don't let that fool you, this team is definitely dangerous. Of their 5 losses, exactly 5 of them have come against teams currently ranked in the top 25, with the most recent loss being a sweep by #10 Minnesota. This one has all the hallmarks of a very hard fought matchup, especially coming off a tough match Friday.
Illinois' best scorer is Jocelynn Birks with 4.26 kills per set, and defensively the key is libero, Jennifer Beltran with 4.00 digs per set. Unlike Northwestern, this Illinois team presents a lot of matchup issues across the board. Birks stands at a very respectable 6'2" however it's their second leading scorer, Liz McMahon, at 6'6" who looks to present some issues at first glance. On the flip side, how Purdue chooses to attack Illinois on offense will be very interesting to watch as Purdue has struggled against teams that can put up good blocks.
Hopefully Purdue will be able to keep Illinois on their heels through high quality serving and contributions from every position (translation: we could use some points from Middle Blockers and Outside Hitters Not Named Ariel Turner). If Purdue gets one dimensional and keeps trying to force feed Turner then Illinois' size might just be enough to give her trouble. If Purdue can get high percentage points from its supporting players then this could be another good win in Big Ten Play.
Prediction: Purdue 3 Illinois 2
For more high quality information on these matchups, check out the Purdue Athletics Volleyball Preview