That was fun. Not that anyone who was there needs me to tell them that, but to be honest, that was much more satisfying than a 3-1 win over an unranked (albeit still quite talented) Illinois team probably should be. Before I get into the heart of the match, a couple of quick one-off points: Watching volleyball again in Mackey is a bit disorienting at first, with the blue lines down it takes a second to get your bearings, but even more it definitely is an excellent reminder that basketball season is fast approaching. Now onto the match!
The first set was easily one of the most competitive, stressful, (insert alternative adjectives here), and entertaining sets I've watched in quite some time. The set really was neck and neck throughout with neither team truly able to pull away. Which can be a problem when you need to win by 2. After reaching 24-24, Purdue and Illinois battled back and forth for what felt like an eternity before Purdue broke down and wasn't able to get a shot off to end the set 29-31 in favor of Illinois. Luckily in the world of volleyball, no matter how epic a set is, after you win or lose that still only counts as one.
And the rest of this match is where the Purdue players showed what they were made of. The second set started reasonably well with Purdue able to get out to a 6 point lead at 21-15, but what happened next was just plain painful. Through a combination of mis-hits, mis-communications, and missed assignments, Purdue allowed Illinois to tie the game up at 21. After a Faye Adelaja kill and two more by Annie Drews, Kiki Jones was able to put it away to salvage the set 25-23.
The third set was all about quiet domination. The lead never really seemed to balloon up to some ridiculous margin, but by the same token you never got the feeling that the Illini ever stood a chance of winning it. Purdue jumped out to a 10-5 lead and it just slowly grew as the match went on until they won 25-17.
The fourth set was back to the old ways with neither team wanting to give any ground. To give Illinois credit, they took control in this set, after it was tied 9-9 they managed to get a 4 point lead and the match looked like it was going to be going to a fifth set. Sam Epinesa and Val Nichol combined to score the Boilers' next 6 points or so and tie the match up at 20. From there out it was just a matter of which team would blink first. A few Illini miscues and a few excellent plays by Purdue later and this match was in the books.
- The Block Party was rocking
Another excellent showing as we've all come to expect from the Block Party, and by the end of the match the entire crowd was making life difficult for the visitors. Well done.
- The Val Nichol Setting Project AND Hitting Project
The stars finally aligned and we were able to see the best of what Val can bring to the team. She had 14 kills with a .314 percentage to go along with 23 assists, and she chipped in 4 blocks just for good measure. On a totally related note, we also saw a rather large dose of Rachel Davis tonight which helps explain why Val got those 35 attacks off. All in all excellent rotation use by Coach Shondell.
- Sam Epinesa
This is becoming a common occurrence, but darn it all if I'm gonna stop writing about it, Sam is pretty much the closest thing to a "Go-To" option that this team has and she slowly but surely getting more consistent with that increase in volume. This week she had 14 kills on a team leading 45 attacks for a respectable .293 hitting percentage. She gets docked points for her 4 service errors (ouch), but even so this team needs Sam to take over at times because if they can ever get the outside hitting to consistently hit the mark, the rest of the pieces look to be almost in place.
- The Other Pieces In Place
Kiki Jones and Faye Adelaja are an incredible 1-2 punch in the middle for this team. Kiki had a much better hitting night in this match (10 kills on 19 attempts), but increasingly the Purdue setters are making an effort to get both of them the ball on quick sets in the middle. Plus theses two ladies are a large part of the reason that Purdue's frontline defense has been so active lately. Not perfect, but certainly active.
The other set of players who deserve some recognition are the back row defenders who came to play. Carly is Carly, we all know the drill, she's really consistent and occasionally spectacular with reflexes that Neo from the Matrix would envy; 21 digs tonight. Hillary Fox and Amanda Neill however both brought their A Games as well, or at least their B+ Games. Hillary had 20 digs of her own (and we'll ignore the one return error for the sake of hyperbole). Amanda had 8 digs, but more importantly she had 3 service aces.
- Annie Drews
She's getting there. The coaches are smart and they obviously talked to her about teams knowing that she's had a tendency to hit right into blocks. Tonight Annie did show some signs of trying to mix up her hits and lob some over the outstretched arms of the defenders. She wasn't tremendously successful with those change-ups, but she's trying and she's learning. She had 12 kills on 23 attempts which is good, but she also had 6 errors, which dropped her percentage down to .261. And you can live with that. You'd just like to make sure you keep seeing improved decision making on how Annie picks and chooses her spots.
- Blocking Errors
In general I feel similarly about blocking errors as I do about errors in baseball. I'd much prefer that the players be in a position to make a play than to just let the ball go right by them, but in this case the missed blocks are noteworthy because man, those things are painful to watch. It's frustrating to see two players make a good rotation and then watch the ball bounce off them out of bounds. I have no doubt that the coaches will work on cleaning things like this up though, and as I mentioned earlier the blockers are much more active now than we've seen in the past and that's definitely a good thing.
If you've got anything you'd like to add on, or if you just feel like disagreeing, the comment boxes are all yours, guys, but at the very least it feels nice to win, doesn't it?