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Purdue Volleyball: Volleyball finishes Boiler Box Challenge unbeaten

#22 Volleyball only dropped one set all weekend en route to winning the Boiler Box Challenge over South Dakota, Ball State, and Notre Dame.

#22 Purdue Volleyball was a perfect 3-0 in matches at the Purdue-hosted Boiler Box Challenge this weekend, including 3-0 wins over South Dakota and Ball State and a 3-1 win over Notre Dame in Mackey Arena.  Official Purdue Athletics articles about the wins, including statistics and game summaries, can be found here:  South Dakota Ball State Notre Dame

The weekend started off bright and early at 10 AM Friday morning, a time that has given the Boilers trouble the past few years.  South Dakota was the opponent this time, featuring Purdue sophomore Lydia Dimke's older sister, opposite Sydney Dimke.  I was able to stop by the match in between classes, and the atmosphere was surprisingly good for 10 AM on a school day.  It took a bit for Purdue to wake up, needing a 6-1 run at the end of set one to win 26-24, but they played their game and figured out the matchup on their way to a straight sets win, 26-24, 25-19, 25-21.

South Dakota's lineup featured three left-handers, including a very rare left-handed middle blocker, which made way for an unorthodox and unfamiliar offense.  This made up for their smaller size, but once Purdue figured out the blocking matchups, they exerted their will at the net.  Lydia Dimke played exceptionally well as an outside hitter, hitting .310 with 14 kills against her sister's team.  Middle blocker Danielle Cuttino also shined with 11 kills and a stellar .625 hitting percentage.  This match was a matter of Purdue taking care of business, and they did to achieve the clean 3-0 sweep.

Indiana neighbors Ball State were up next, coached by Dave and John Shondell's older brother, Steve Shondell.  Ball State is a well-coached team with good size in the middle, but less athleticism on the pins than Purdue.  Similarly to that morning's match, it took a comeback to win set one, 26-24, in a set where Purdue struggled a bit in serve-receive.  Outside hitters Lydia Dimke and Azariah Stahl and opposite Annie Drews came alive on the pins in set two, and used that 25-21 win as momentum for the 25-14 destruction that followed in set three.  Another "take care of business" sort of match, mission accomplished.

Before the Ball State match, it was announced that the Boiler Box Challenge would be renamed the Stacey Clark Classic in honor of Stacey Clark, long-time volleyball supporter who coordinates the Gold Block booster group and has assisted the team in various official and volunteer roles for almost 30 years.  Clark, who attended the match, received the Golden Hammer award from the team before the match in an emotional ceremony.  It was a great moment for the team and those familiar with Clark's contributions to the program.

The annual "Pack Mackey" volleyball match concluded the tournament Saturday night against in-state rival Notre Dame.  More than 6,200 were in attendance for the 3-1 win and tournament victory that wasn't without its question marks.  In contrast to the previous day's matches, the first set absolutely wasn't close.  Notre Dame had no answer for Annie Drews on the right side, and hit a mere .077 compared to Purdue's .538 in the set, resulting in a 25-12 victory.  The momentum completely turned in set two, however, with the resurgence of the Notre Dame defense.  Purdue went down 7-1 right away and despite climbing back to force extra points, were outmatched defensively the whole set.  Lots of credit goes to Notre Dame's defensive players for adjusting the block positioning and back row defense against Annie Drews, who despite her 29 kills and .312 hitting percentage, had a whopping 64 attempts in the match, which made the Purdue offense all too predictable in the later stages.

Set three was the nail-biter none of the fans wanted.  Purdue held total control the whole set, earning a 24-17 lead and seven match points.  At this point, though, they systematically threw the lead away point by point, struggling to pass serve and score on the first ball, plus committing a couple hitting errors.  Notre Dame scored 8 consecutive points to actually earn a set point, 25-24, until Purdue finally sided out on a kill by Drews.  A solo block by Alexa Smith finally won the set for Purdue, 28-26.

Notre Dame started hot in set four, leading 9-7, before the Boilermakers woke up and closed the set on an 18-7 run to win 25-16 and seal the tournament victory.  Annie Drews and Lydia Dimke were named to the all-tournament team, and libero Amanda Neill was named tournament MVP for her stellar defensive leadership all weekend.

Lineups for most of the weekend were Ashley Evans at setter, Azariah Stahl and Lydia Dimke at outside hitter, Kaisley Fisher and Danielle Cuttino at middle blocker, Annie Drews at opposite, and Amanda Neill at libero.  Brooke Peters played the back row for Dimke, and Alexa Smith played the back row for Stahl, as well as all six rotations at a few points.  Sam Epenesa came in despite an abdominal strain against Notre Dame, and Kate Workman served a few aces as a serving specialist for Cuttino, as did Carissa Damler for Drews.  Middle blocker Faye Adelaja suffered a concussion in practice during the week and was out all weekend, as was defender Linnea Rohrsen with a broken hand.

Lydia Dimke surprised many with her appearance as an outside hitter, considering she's the only other setting option other than Evans on the roster.  Her attacking range and vision of the block were very impressive, and were reflected in her hitting percentages.  Kaisley Fisher stepped up to the plate to fill Adelaja's shoes for the weekend.  She blocked the ball well and took advantage of her attacking opportunities.  Annie Drews saw by far the most hitting attempts, and earned the most kills to match.  During the Notre Dame match, she surpassed 1,000 kills for her career, a feat achieved by only 24 Boilermakers previously.

My reactions to the tournament after seeing all three matches are pretty positive going into Big Ten play at Michigan this Friday.  Purdue won the serve-serve receive battle in every match, which is the biggest key to succeeding in the game these days.  Ashley Evans ran a pretty good offense for the first two matches, but relied on Drews too much against Notre Dame.  Lots of people got playing time opportunities and made the most of them.  Purdue recognized the favorable matchups and exploited them with their superior size and athleticism in the front row.  Unfortunately, entering Big Ten play, more teams will match up closer to Purdue in size, so it'll take superior execution and game planning to have lots of success in the toughest volleyball conference in America.

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