Purdue Volleyball lost yet another 5 set match to Iowa on the road tonight, 22-25, 27-25, 25-20, 21-25, 13-15. This is the team's third straight loss, which drops their Big Ten record to 1-4. Their record in five set matches is now the same 1-4, a bad sign for the team's "clutch factor" and performance in tight do-or-die moments in the volleyball equivalent of overtime.
From the volleyball website's press release, Purdue led in hitting percentage (by a mere 0.01) and in blocks (12 to 8.5). Sherridan Atkinson seemed to have an incredible night, with 15 kills and a .636 hitting percentage. A percentage that high for one player means that the rest of the team likely hit poorly with a team average of .236. Azariah Stahl, specifically, had 5 kills and 11 errors on 33 attempts for a hitting percentage of -.182.
For the uninformed, hitting percentage is a number comparable to baseball's batting average that is calculated by taking kills (attacks that score a point) minus errors (attacks that directly lose a point, including balls hit out of bounds and balls blocked) divided by total number of attempts (all attacking attempts, including kills, errors, and others). A good team average is .250, comparable to baseball. A negative hitting percentage means a player had more errors than kills, which is rather unacceptable in Big Ten volleyball.
Stahl has been known to be a hot and cold sort of hitter, and she's become a six rotation player this season, giving her more responsibilities than just attacking the ball. As I worried before the season started, this team's lack of depth at all the hitting positions is really starting to show here. Normally if a player is hitting in the negative percentages she'd be substituted out, except that there are literally no subs at the outside hitter position on our roster, one of the most important positions on a volleyball team. We can get away with that when both players are playing well and against inferior competition, but if we aren't deep enough to beat Iowa, a bottom half of the Big Ten sort of team, we may be in real trouble.
I'll admit I was a little more surprised about the two top-10 upsets of Kansas and Stanford earlier this year than I am about this loss, considering only my outlook on the season before it started. Kansas and Stanford were both overrated in the rankings, and play a style of volleyball that is weak to that of the Big Ten. In the Big Ten season, it's about beating other teams at their own very familiar games. We're going to have to really turn something around to claw back to a .500 conference record.
The team travels to Nebraska tomorrow to play the defending national champion Cornhuskers on Sunday. Not a very forgiving schedule by any means.