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Missed It By That Much: #24 Purdue Volleyball falls to #5 Penn State in 5 sets

There are no moral victories in sports, but #24 Purdue Volleyball showed excellent resolve forcing #5 Penn State to go the distance in a hard fought 5 set match on Saturday night in West Lafayette.

Call it poise, call it resiliency, call it momentum, but whatever you call it, in a sport of runs like volleyball it is fleeting. When Penn State reeled off 2 straight sets to take a 2 sets to 1 lead, Purdue's outlook for that 4th set wasn't great. But the team found some of that poise and shocked the crowd back to life with a brilliantly fought win to send the match to a 5th and final set. Like I said though, that quality is fleeting in the best of times and it flew right away in the 5th set as Penn State pulled ahead and showed why they're the national powerhouse that we've come to expect.

With all that being said, this was an excellent volleyball match from start to finish, Purdue's players can and should hold their heads high for winning a surprisingly dominant first set and for rallying to win that 4th set to give themselves a real shot at beating Penn State in 5. Like Coach Shondell always talks about, stick by the team because better times are ahead. Here are a couple things that stood out from this match:

The Good:

  • Sam Epinesa

She led the team with 16 kills and looked good doing it. Those two things are actually somewhat unrelated though, because Sam's game is still a work in progress. What she occasionally lacks in efficiency (albeit with a very respectable 16 kills in 40 attempts with 5 errors tonight, good for .275 hitting percentage) she makes up for with her ability to almost always get a decent shot off. Because of her jumping ability and quickness, her game is better suited for a high volume of shots than anyone else on the team. That athleticism is also why her game looks so smooth even if the occasional mis-hit can be frustrating.

  • The Frontline Defense

I'm sure others have noticed it, but Purdue's blocking looks to be much better these last few games than I've seen from them in a while. The team put together a very good defensive effort with 4 different players collecting at least 4 blocks tonight, alongside Carly Cramer and Hillary Fox each earning double digit digs in the back.

  • Faye Adelaja and Kiki Jones

These two ladies made it a point to own the middle of the court for much of the night. In addition to contributing to the aforementioned defense they both hit well, with Faye hitting 6 of 7 and no errors and Kiki at 9 of 18 with 1 error. When Purdue was playing at its best against Penn State, you could usually count on one of the two middle blockers being involved.

  • The Val Nichol Setting Project

I know a lot of the readers at H&R probably still aren't fans, I understand, but at this point I've got to give coach credit. He's managed to get his rotations to the point where the offense's rhythm isn't nearly as thrown off when Val is running the show. She led the team with 34 assists against Penn State, and while her setting still lacks the polish of a lot of the setters we've seen the last few years, it's not what's holding this team back.

The Not-So-Good

  • The Val Nichol Hitting Project

This one feels weird to me because anyone who talks to me has heard me say that I still contend Val's a more natural hitter than setter, but against Penn State...ouch. 7 kills for 25 attempts isn't bad, but throw in 6 hitting errors and that's a .040 hitting percentage on a night when the team just needed a little more than that.

  • Catherine Rebarchak

I am a big fan of Cat's, but if Val's hitting against Penn State was poor, Cat's was worse. Give credit to Penn State for making Purdue have to hit difficult shots, but 8 of 45 with 11 hitting errors is, I'm afraid to say, just plain bad. I won't pile on any more than that, just suffice to say that a hitting percentage of -.066 won't cut it.

  • Annie Drews

Okay yeah, I probably could have just made one bullet point that said "Outside Hitting" however in Annie's case it's fairly easy to see what happened against Penn State and a bit harder to fix it (but that's why we have comment boxes, right?). The thing with Annie is that she does one thing really really well on offense: she hits the ever-living daylights out of the ball. The problem is that teams have scouted her and they know that all they have to do is make sure not to bite on her big windup because she's not going to beat them with any type of off-speed shot. Once that's established it's not all that surprising when she gets only 6 kills against 5 hitting errors as she continually hits into a wall of defenders.

The Takeaway

The short version is that this is just one game and it was a very encouraging performance overall. I picked on the outside hitting a fair amount and while you can alternatively credit or blame some combination of Penn State's defense, Val Nichol's setting, and the outside hitters themselves, the fact of the matter is that the latter two can improve and the first one is darn good. Call me an optimist, but after a sweep of an excellent Ohio State team yesterday, this match is a good sign that Purdue is showing signs of breaking out in B1G play.