That might have been the best volleyball match I've ever watched. It was also probably 2 points away from being the worst. Well, not the worst, but certainly it would have been one of the most painful. Instead, Purdue pulled out an incredible 5 set victory over #15 Wisconsin Badgers on Saturday night in West Lafayette. The highs and lows of a match like this are almost impossible to describe if you weren't there in person, but to call a win like this impressive undersells both how amazing it was and how ridiculous it was at times as well. And sloppy. Good Lord it was sloppy.
The first set started well for Purdue as Cat Rebarchak came out early and played well. But while Purdue gained an early lead that looked to be insurmountable, before the Boilers could finish things off, Wisconsin stopped just hanging around ad started making a push to win. Despite Purdue holding a 24-21 lead, Wisconsin used some great defensive plays from their backline to go on a roll and win the set 24-26.
In contrast to the first set, Purdue got off to a poor start the second time around. A quick 1-4 Wisconsin lead stretched out to 11-17, but after that the Purdue team that beat Nebraska decided to make an appearance and they proceeded to go on a 14 to 3 run to snatch a dominant 25-20 win out of what was looking to be a decidedly dominant loss.
Set number 3, in a precursor of what was to come, was tight from start to finish, as volleyball matches are occasionally wont to be. Neither team was able to pull away as this set produced 5 lead changes and 11 ties. It appeared that Wisconsin would be able to pull it off after going up 21-24, but a Sam Epinesa kill and two consecutive attacks into the net tied the match up before Purdue added two more in a row to again steal victory from the jaws of defeat. Worth noting about this set is that Wisconsin had 21 kills for Purdue's 13, but the Badgers had 8 hitting errors, 2 service errors, and 2 return errors. I mentioned this match was sloppy, yes?
Now we come to the 4th set. And what a set it was. The previous sets were competitive, but they all paled in comparison to this one. Wisconsin gained an early lead, but Purdue refused to go away, keeping the score within 3, but unable to regain the lead until Sam Epinesa made it 18-17. From there on out, neither team was going to make much progress pulling away. Purdue gained the first attempt at set point when the score was 24-23, but Wisconsin tied it up again and each team would continue to battle back and forth all the way to 31-31. At that point Wisconsin ran a good play up the middle to take the lead and then took the set on an ace after Purdue misplayed a fairly routine serve. In total this set contained 11 lead changes and an amazing 21 tied scores, but it also had 5 service errors by Wisconsin, 4 by Purdue, and 9 hitting errors apiece. In sum, I have no idea if this was the best or worst quality volleyball set I've seen in quite some time.
At long last the teams entered the 5th set and after the way the 4th one ended, this was anyone's game to lose. This time around, Purdue started quickly and managed a 3 point lead a few times, the final occurrence being at 10-7. Wisconsin was not going down without a fight though, and they tied the set up at 11-11. The margin stayed capped at 1 for both teams until Annie Drews hammered one home to give Purdue a 16-15 lead. Sam Epinesa took advantage of the match point chance and with one last swing sealed Purdue's win over the #15 team in the country in 5 grueling marathon sets.
- Val Nichol
Messed around and got a triple-double. Yeah, I'd call it a good day for Val Nichol. For her first career triple-double, not only did she lead the team with 15 kills on a .371 percentage, she threw in 15 digs, and led the team with 34 assists as well. It's hard to understate just how important Val's versatility and talent are to Coach Shondell's strategy for this Purdue team. When she's got it going, Val is one of the best setters in the B1G, and the funny thing is that I'm still convinced she's even better as an outside hitter. No matter where she plays though, her presence on the floor makes all the difference in the world for Purdue's ceiling.
- Kiki Jones
Kiki came to play in a big way this match, and she did it in every facet of the game. She racked up 10 kills on a rather gaudy .421 percentage and was a part of 7 blocks as well. When she was in the match she was just getting her hands on everything and her rotations to the outside were very good, especially when teamed with Cat Rebarchak. Kiki was a definite factor in affecting Wisconsin's 29 hitting errors.
- Annie Drews
She lives! Annie wasn't perfect, but her 3 hitting errors are nothing when they come alongside 13 kills and a .400 percentage on the night. There were still times when she would hit into Wisconsin's block, but more often than not on this night she was able to power through instead and a couple of times when Wisconsin didn't get there in time....ouch.
- This Purdue team since losing at Minnesota
Still haven't lost in fewer than 5 sets and they've beaten some really good teams along the way. The Boilers still need to work on consistency, but when they're hitting on all cylinders they can play with anyone. All things considered, the team is on a tear and I'm not sure there's a single team in the B1G that really wants to play Purdue right now.
- Cat and Sam
Cat Rebarchak had 12 kills, which is pretty good, but she also had 6 errors and 41 attempts. All together that adds up to a .146 hitting percentage which is decidedly not good. There are some caveats here though, because Cat more than any of the other outside hitters did an excellent job rotating on defense to contest shots even beyond what her 4 blocks show. And when Cat is playing well, you can just about guarantee that Purdue is in the lead, I honestly think she's quietly one of the most important players on the team. Sam Epinesa had 13 kills, tempered by 8 errors on 49 attempts for a .102 hitting percentage. Those numbers are pretty bad, but there are actually a couple mitigating factors. The biggest one is that because Sam is the closest thing to a "go-to" option that the team has, she ends up with more really awful sets than most any other hitter on the offense. Those poor sets are a large part of those errors and account for some of the percentage as well. Sam still needs to do better, because she was still inconsistent, but there's some blame to go around.
- General Sloppiness
13 service errors isn't going to help you win many games. Obvious, I know, but those were painful to watch. Same with a lot of the return errors. They're bad things, but those are even more frustrating because a lot of the time the serve itself wasn't anything ridiculous or difficult, Purdue just misplayed them.
But a win's a win and this time it came over a very good team that wouldn't quit. Luckily Purdue wouldn't either and all of us in attendance were better off for it.