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Purdue Volleyball: Spring Season Preview

IU hate week continues with #16 Purdue Men’s Volleyball taking on the Hoosiers at home this weekend, along with the rest of the Big Ten.

Connor Wright (#30) attacks a ball out of the back row.

Can’t make it to Bloomington tonight, but want to see Purdue beat Indiana in person this week? We have you covered.

The Purdue Men’s Volleyball club team returns to action this weekend ranked 16th in the nation and looking to build on a Big Ten regular season title and a top-10 national finish from last year. Despite graduating four starters, the team is reloaded, recharged, and ready to compete for a third Big Ten Championship in four years.

This team looks different from that of last year. All-American outside hitter Chris Bulava graduated, as did outside hitter Sam Balaskas, setter Mike Noyes, and opposites Bill Moisan and Devin Burke. However, the depth of the program produced capable, experienced players to fill these roles for this year, plus a pair of excellent freshman additions.

The two middle blocker positions have remained constant from last year, thanks to All-Big Ten first teamer Rob St. Claire’s return to Purdue for graduate school. 6’6” Junior Dave Hancock has assumed one of the captain roles and looks to continue dominating the Big Ten in his second full season as a middle blocker. Sophomore Josh Dailey made the jump from the B team to the A team this year, and brings a high flying presence off the bench.

Rob St. Claire (#1) beats the Minnesota block with a quick attack.

Filling the two open outside hitter spots from last year will be no problem for this deep roster. Senior Hayden Keller finally gets a full shot at the starting lineup this year, and had a stellar fall season. Junior Connor Wright is making the move back to the A team after being named All-American on the B team level last year. A 6’6” freshman out of Indianapolis, Jake Watkins will be a huge contributor this weekend and all season long. Sophomore Alan Nguyen proved himself against top level competition in the fall, and can play with anyone in the conference.

The opposite position looks to belong to senior Andrew Birky, who transitioned from outside hitter at the very end of last season and looked unstoppable for most of the fall season this year. St. Claire and Watkins are also both very capable on the right side, providing a big boost to the Purdue offense and block.

Junior Kyle Obernesser returns to the starting libero role, the defensive player of the year in the Big Ten his freshman year. Experienced senior Kevin Fekete is looking forward to his first spring season on the A team, and will see the court a ton as Obernesser is also an excellent setter.

Hayden Keller (#13) soars to attack the ball.

Senior club president Mark Mir holds the starting setter position, and has built outstanding chemistry with his hitters and makes a ton of plays, even as the team’s shortest player at 5’10”. 6’5” freshman Eric Zhang looks to be the future of the setting position for Purdue, but is injured this weekend. Obernesser also brings years of setting experience in a dynamic hybrid player package.

This team has the perfect combination of youth, experience, size, athleticism, excitement, and focus to make this another tremendously successful year for the Purdue Men’s Volleyball program.

This weekend marks the BTMVA (Big Ten Men’s Volleyball Association) Round Robin, which will be hosted in the Corec at Purdue for the fifth straight year. The format is simple: each team plays one match against every other team in the league. The BTMVA consists of the 10 original Big Ten teams, so no Penn State, Nebraska, Maryland, or Rutgers. The Big Ten, as well as the Midwest at large, is a consistently dominant conference on the national scale with plenty of powerhouse teams that you can expect to contend at Nationals in April.

Purdue won this tournament last year with a sterling 8-1 record, including a huge win over eventual national 5th place finishers Wisconsin in a de facto championship game that went down to the wire. If the first set of this year’s national rankings is any indication, this year’s tournament will have some equally compelling matches.

Mark Mir (#11) quarterbacks the Purdue offense.

#3 Illinois comes into the tournament as the highest ranked Big Ten team, and won the Michigan State Hardwood Classic and the NIU Fall Tournament last semester. #11 Wisconsin isn’t far behind, returning two 6’7” middle blockers and most of the core of their 5th place national team last year. #14 Ohio State has a fifth year outside hitter who played for the Ohio State NCAA Varsity team last year, and has an NCAA Championship ring. #23 Minnesota beat Purdue in last year’s Big Ten Championship tournament, where they finished second to Illinois. Iowa is on the upswing, with lots of Chicago-area talent and a win over third place national finishers Virginia Tech last semester. Michigan has an outstanding setter and opposite duo that can get hot at any time. Michigan State is a well coached program that has been built from the ground up and wants to prove that they belong in the Big Ten this year. Northwestern improves every single year, and has finished in the top 8 of the Big Ten Championships each of the last three years.

That leaves Indiana.

Since 2012, Purdue A had never lost to Indiana, A or B. You could consider it automatic that Purdue would beat Indiana during that span. That changed last fall at the Illini 16 fall tournament at the University of Illinois in October. Purdue beat the Illinois Alumni and #22 Iowa State to reach the finals, where they were surprised to find Indiana waiting for them. Purdue couldn’t handle Indiana’s energy and rowdy bench, and made too many errors in a 2-0 loss.

That match has driven this Purdue team for the last four months. If there’s one match out of all the great ones that you won’t want to miss this weekend, it’s the one against Indiana. Indiana wants to prove that they’re a contender and that four year streak is over. Purdue wants nothing more than to put Indiana back in their place below Purdue on the map and in the Big Ten standings. Do not miss this match.

The Big Ten Round Robin will be held in the France A. Cordova Rec Sports Center in West Lafayette this Saturday and Sunday, February 11-12. Matches on Saturday should start at 9 AM, and Sunday’s matches will start at 8 AM. The full tournament schedule has not yet been posted, but will be on the club’s website, the event Facebook page, and the MIVA website sometime today or tomorrow. Purdue will play five matches on Saturday, and four on Sunday.

Andrew Birky (#24) defends in last year’s NCVF National Championships.

If you’re new to men’s volleyball as a spectator, or new to the idea of its existence, we’d love to see you this weekend. You can expect to see high level athletes who love representing their universities playing a fast, exciting game at an elite competition level. Since NCAA Men’s Volleyball is so limited due to Title IX, this is the highest level of men’s volleyball on most college campuses. If you’ve watched the Purdue women’s volleyball team before, you’ll love what the men’s club team has to offer.

Follow the team all season on Facebook, and check out the above links for more details on this weekend’s tournament.

Edit: Tournament schedule posted, link here. Purdue plays Indiana at 5:30 on Saturday.