Well, I've got good news and I've got bad news, but since I prefer to end on the more pleasant note I'll give the bad news first, so bear with me.
The Bad News:
- Purdue lost
The most obvious downside was also probably the most predictable given the current states of both teams. After Purdue took the first set 25-21, USC won the next 3 games in a manner fitting the #4 team in the country.
- No one for Purdue had a truly great game
This almost wasn't the case (which I'll address in the good news), but this wasn't a game where any one Purdue player had a game we'll talk about for ages like Turner had with 25+ kills as a freshman, or even Annie Drews getting 18 against Penn State last year. Against some teams this won't be an issue, but against a team as good as USC it definitely was. Obviously the other way a team could play at a high level without an all-time performance is by having enough players with very good games to get the same effect, but there just weren't enough of those very good performances to overcome USC on this night.
- Still some lingering issues against good blockers
More often than you'd like, the Purdue sets ended with a hitter getting stonewalled by the excellent rotations and overwhelming size of USC. Perhaps someone smarter than I could say whether that number actually was too high, but from the peanut gallery it didn't look great and even I know hitting .092 isn't going to cut it over the long term. Along with that however, a ton of credit goes to USC for having such crisp rotations and using their natural size advantage so well.
- If you weren't at the game, you still have no idea why I titled this post "Slippery When Wet"
Luckily this is some bad news I can alleviate. Put simply, it was H.O.T. in there, and everyone from the students to the players to the coaches was sweating to the point that the court was borderline unplayable at times because it was so slick. I'm pretty sure we as the Purdue student body erred when we nicknamed Ross-Ade, "The Furnace" because that moniker needs to belong to Holloway Gymnasium. In light of the fact that what's done is done though, I've decided to unofficially nickname Holloway "The Sauna" instead. If you were there, you understand why.
- USC is just a better team than Purdue
There's really not much to debate on this one, USC just looked like a decidedly better team for 3 of the 4 games. This isn't to say that Purdue looked bad, because they didn't. In fact, to me Purdue looked like the #16 team in the country for much of the match, the difference is that USC looked like they deserved that #4 ranking.
And now the good news!
- USC is just a better team than Purdue....right now
Maybe it's just the optimist in me, but I can honestly see enough areas of growth for this Purdue volleyball team to make me think that they can improve to the point that a rematch would have a different outcome. Part of that is youth at key spots for Purdue, but just as much of it is players adjusting to new roles this year. Annie Drews is going to keep improving as an outside hitter and the Rachel Davis/Val Nichol dynamic has room to grow as everyone settles in.
- Speaking of improving outside hitters
I was not nearly kind enough to Sam Epinesa in my season preview (which you should definitely read here if you haven't yet). In what I can only describe as a lucky disclaimer, I made a point not to set an arbitrary ceiling on her since she was a highly ranked recruit out of high school and because well, crazier things have happened. As it turns out, she came out tonight and lit it up at a level I certainly didn't expect from her, but I'd be lying if I said I was anything other than thrilled to see. Sam tallied 12 kills and looked good doing it, so consider me duly impressed and looking forward to seeing what she'll do in the future. The only downside is that 12 kills from Sam doesn't really qualify as one of the "all-time performances" I referenced previously, so unfortunately my point above still stands...but even so, way to go Sam!
- Alright, Val Nichol Setter Project, you have my attention
A very solid all around game for Val as she put up 12 kills, 20 assists, and 7 digs tonight. Rachel Davis didn't do poorly by any means, with 20 assists and 10 digs of her own, but if Val Nichol shows the necessary skills to coexist with Rachel and still run the team at times, then it's another useful tool in the toolbox that Coach Shondell can use to make up for Ariel Turner's lost production.
- The Block Party is still awesome
This one speaks for itself.