It took extra points in a fifth set to prevent the Boilermakers from defending their Mortar Board Premier title.
Kentucky bested the Boilers in a thriller, 25-20, 25-18, 24-26, 21-25, 20-18. Purdue mounted a wild comeback from down two sets to none, but couldn't quite pull it off. Also on that weekend, Purdue beat Mortar Board Premier Champs Washington State 3-1 and Wyoming 3-0, both with relative ease.
A huge asterisk from that weekend is that fifth year senior middle blocker Faye Adelaja didn't play in any of the matches. She sustained a hamstring injury in practice the Wednesday before, and the trainers kept her out as a precaution. It's safe to say that if she played, the outcome of the Kentucky match may have been different.
Some takeaways from the opening tournament were the outstanding offensive play from the middle blockers, subpar serve reception, All-Tournament performances from Azariah Stahl and Ashley Evans, and low hitting numbers from Danielle Cuttino and Sherridan Atkinson, especially. Of course, it was the first week of the season, and the team had plenty of room to improve heading into South Bend this past weekend.
Howard was the first opponent there, a Washington, D.C. university that plays in the MEAC. They were quickly swept 3-0. Coastal Carolina was next, featuring a host of European players. This was a big match on the calendar, as the Chanticleers beat Miami (FL) in Miami the weekend before. A comeback in set two was key to the 3-0 win.
The nightcap against the host Irish was the conclusion, and was televised on the ACC Network. Danielle Cuttino rebounded hugely from the previous weekend, earning Tournament MVP honors with a 22 kill performance, hitting a ridiculous .425. Purdue's blocking game absolutely dominated this match, and despite dropping the second set due to silly errors, the Boilers showed they could adapt to an inferior opponent and put them away when the time came. The blocking numbers totaled 17.5, an incredibly high number for a four set match. Like the previous weekend, Ashley Evans and Azariah Stahl earned All-Tournament honors.
Photo: Head Coach Dave Shondell and wife Angie with Shamrock Invitational Trophy
What's next for the team, you ask? They have a HUGE challenge ahead of them this weekend as they fly to Palo Alto, California to take on #9 Stanford on Friday. Stanford is coming off a season opening loss to San Diego, then a dismantling of three Big Ten teams in last weekend's Puerto Rico tournament. They handled perennial championship contenders Penn State, highly ranked Illinois, and last year's national semifinalists Minnesota. They're absolutely huge on paper, including players at 6'8", 6'6", 6'4", 6'2", 6'3", and 6'2" across the front row. Their unorthodox offense and California volleyball style will be immensely hard to stop. Did I mention their two-time All-American middle blocker, Inky Ajanaku, is back from ACL surgery and better than ever?
Also during their California adventure, the Boilers will take on Cal Poly on Saturday before returning home to host the Stacey Clark classic the following weekend. That tournament features Southeastern Louisiana, Kansas, and Xavier.
Don't expect a win this weekend against Stanford, but if somehow Purdue can pull it off, it could be a springboard to a season more successful than anyone in the nation expected.
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