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Purdue Volleyball Preview: First Week of Conference Play

Purdue is 10-1 and ranked No. 13 as they head into conference play; team hosts Northwestern and Ohio State to kick things off.

Purdue Volleyball vs South Florida 2014

The Boilermakers will get to ease into conference play as their first six matches will be against teams picked to finish in the bottom half of the Big Ten. The first three of those matches will be at home.

Purdue’s first conference match will be against Northwestern Wednesday evening at 7:00 ET. Saturday at 8:30 ET they’ll take on Ohio State; both matches will air on BTN.

Non-conference Recap

Our last update was after Purdue split matches with Creighton and Kansas. They ended that tournament with a sweep over Belmont. This past weekend they won the Stacy Clark Classic after sweeping Miami (OH) and Loyola (Chicago).

Purdue handled themselves well in non-conference play. They swept eight of their matches, won a five setter on road, won a neutral site game against then No. 9 Creighton, and their only loss was on the road to then No. 7 Kansas. Since the matches in Lawrence, Creighton and Kansas have slipped a little in the rankings. This won’t likely hurt Purdue’s resume much. Creighton will likely run the table in the Big East and Kansas has a good chance to defend their Big 12 title which would require a win or two over No. 6 Texas.

Week Preview


Purdue had mixed results from their weekend in Kansas but it may have been just what Purdue needed. The match against Kansas exposed some flaws and Shondell and the team made adjustments. In the loss to Kansas, Shondell switched up the lineup moving Danielle Cuttino to the middle and inserting Caitlyn Newton at the left pin. Newton has shown she can hold her own but likely will still experience some growing pains if Shondell uses this alternate lineup more. Moving D.Cuttino to the outside was a great move a year ago, and it worked because Purdue had solid middle blockers which is not the case anymore. Blake Mohler is progressing well offensively though she is not as big of a blocking presence. The issue is that there is hardly any production from the MB2 spot. Moving D.Cuttino back to middle gives Purdue a bigger block and an legitimate offensive threat from the middle of the floor. She’ll likely get less attempts there but she could affect more plays just through her presence. Purdue could still win a lot of games with D.Cuttino hitting outside but if they want to beat the likes of Penn State, Minnesota, and Wisconsin they can’t be so vulnerable in the middle.

I don’t think D.Cuttino will have to play middle this weekend. Purdue should be able to swing away from the pins and get kills. Northwestern is trending up but they still have a ways to go. Ohio State is balanced, but only because no one stands out.

Key Players

class, height, position, # name , stats, (statistical rank nationally, in conference)
Positions: MB- middle blocker, OH- outside hitter, RS- right side hitter, DS- defensive specialist, L- libero, S- setter
Stats: K/S- kills/set, B/S- blocks/set, D/S- digs/set. .000- hitting percentage, A/S- assists/set SA/S- service aces/set

Jr. 5’9 L 3 Brooke Peters- 3.49 D/S

Fr. 6’1 OH 4 Caitlyn Newton*- 2.23 K/S, .279

Sr. 6’1 S 5 Ashley Evans- 11.38 A/S (19, 6), 2.0 D/S, 0.38 SA/S (9)

So. 6’2 MB 9 Shavona Cuttino- 1.1 B/S

Sr. 6’0 OH 10 Azariah Stahl- 2.46 K/S, .316, 2.41 D/S

Jr. 6’5 OH 16 Sherridan Atkinson- 3.44 K/S (8), .328, 0.81 B/S

So. 6’2 M 17 Blake Mohler- 2.08 K/S, .374 (14), 0.76 B/S

Sr. 6’4 OH 20 Danielle Cuttino- 3.92 K/S (4), .388 (47, 9), 0.67 B/S

*Newton has only played in 13 sets

Northwestern Preview

Coming into conference play the Wildcats are 10-2 with losses against VCU and LSU. They did get a road win over Duke, who was receiving votes in the AVCA poll at the time. For that, and other reasons, things are looking up for Northwestern even though they’ll still likely finish towards the bottom of the Big Ten. Coach Shane Davis is making inroads in recruiting in only his second season at the helm. One of those prized recruits is Cathedral standout and Indiana Gatorade Player of the Year last season, Nia Robinson. Robinson gives the Wildcats a lift offensively and takes some attention off Symone Abbott. If Purdue takes care of business on their side and passes well Northwestern won’t be able to hang with them.

Key Players

Sr. 6’0 S 1 Taylor Tashima- 11.59 A/S (12, 4), 2.56 D/S, 0.66 B/S, 0. 39 SA/S (6)

Sr. 6’1 OH 2 Symone Abbott- 4.43 K/S (23, 2), .237, 2.28 D/S,

Fr. 5’6 L 7 Lexi Pitsas*- 3.12 D/S

Sr. 6’3 MB 8 Gabrielle Hazen*- 2.39 K/S, .410 (28, 6), 1.27 B/S (6)

So. 5’7 DS 9 Sarah Johnson- 2.85 D/S, 0.39 SA/S (6)

Fr. 6’2 OH 18 Nia Robinson*- 3.63 K/S (6), .281

Fr. 6’3 MB 20 Alana Walker- 2.32 K/S, .338, 0.61 B/S

* Indiana natives. Pistas attended Munster, Hazen- Columbia City, Robinson- Cathedral. Bloomington South grad Emily Ehman is also on the roster.

Ohio State Preview

On the season the Buckeyes are 7-4. The closest they’ve come to a win over a ranked opponent was taking a set from BYU. Their other losses have been to Missouri State, Notre Dame and Western Kentucky while none of these are embarrassing losses these have booted OSU from the AVCA top 25.

Ohio State in some ways lacks an identity, fierce middle blocker Taylor Sandbothe graduated and Ohio State has been forced to reload. This year none of their hitters average three kills a set and one only hits .146. One wrinkle that does make them unique, though, is their setter Taylor Hughes. She’s aggressive offensively and they sometimes run a 6-2 with her attacking across the front row. This will be another game that if Purdue takes care of things on their side of the net they shouldn’t have an issue.

Key Players

So. 6’3 MB 4 Madison Smeathers*- 2.1 K/S, .271, 0.82 B/S

Sr. 6’1 OH 5 Luisa Schirmer- 2.55 K/S, 2.79 D/S, 0.25 SA/S

Jr. 6’1 S 6 Taylor Hughes- 10.21 A/S (9), .335, 2.67 D/S, 0.69 B/S

Fr. 5’6 L 7 Hannah Gruensfelder- 5.05 D/S (37, 1)

Jr. 6’1 OH 9 Audra Appold- 2.71 K/S, .258, 2.86 D/S

Fr. 6’2 OH 10 Ayanna Swan- 2.76 K/S, .250

Fr. 6’2 MB 12 Lauren Witte- .378 (12), 1.21 B/S (9)

Sr. 6’3 OH 13 Ashley Wenz- 2.53 K/S, .278, 0.74 B/S

* Indiana natives. Smeathers went to Center Grove. Two other Indiana products are on the Buckeye roster; Megan Carr from Zionsville and Kalisha Goree from Columbia City.

Conference Schedule Preview

As mentioned before Purdue opens conference play with some of teams from the bottom half of the league as part of an easier first half of their schedule. They will play a three game stretch against against Minnesota, Nebraska and Penn State which the last two will be at home and the matches are spread over 10 days. Over the back half though they’ll face Nebraska and Minnesota again, Wisconsin, Michigan, and Michigan State.

The first week of play features some big matches Nebraska will travel to Penn State on Friday. Travel partners Michigan and Michigan State will travel to the Upper Midwest to take on Minnesota and Wisconsin.

Strength of Schedule

To this point in the season Purdue has played the 71st toughest schedule

AVCA Rankings

  1. Minnesota (40)
  2. Penn State (13)
  3. Florida (10)
  4. Stanford (1)
  5. Wisconsin
  6. Texas
  7. Washington
  8. Oregon
  9. BYU
  10. Kentucky

(first-place votes)

Other ranked Big Ten Teams: #13 Purdue, #14 Nebraska, and #20 Michigan. Michigan State and Maryland received votes.

Michigan State and Ohio State have not taken any bad losses but have been more or less pushed out by some mid-majors who got some upsets, although both had losses to a Notre Dame squad that is just outside the top 25. Northern Iowa comes in at 22 after beating Nebraska in Omaha. Colorado State stayed at 22 after first making the rankings with a win over Michigan. Wichita State got a win over Creighton which helped them get back into the top 25. Colorado got the last spot in the top 25 after beating CSU and since their only loss has been to Penn State.

Since the shake-up in the top five two weeks ago things have remained the same all the way through the top seven. BYU seemed to be the biggest benefactor of those mid-major upsets rising from 14 to 9 with the help of a win over No. 16 Utah.

Non-Conference Opponent Update

Kansas has fallen for two consecutive weeks, coming in at No. 12 this week. After beating Purdue two weeks ago, they were swept by Creighton, and last weekend they took a five-set loss to unranked Santa Clara. Creighton has dropped to No. 15 after losing to Wichita State and Iowa State.

National Outlook

There are still seven undefeated teams across the country, lucky for Purdue three of them are Big Ten teams, Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Penn State. Florida, James Madison, Miami (FL), and Towson are the other undefeated teams. Towson and James Madison are both in the Colonial conference so one of them will eventually lose. Miami’s perfect run will likely come to an end shortly; they’re picked to finish 6th in the ACC. Their run may have even ended last weekend as they were slated to play James Madison but it was cancelled due to Hurricane Irma. Florida, though, could run the table in the SEC.

USA Volleyball

Annie Drews, class of 2016, has had a very successful summer with the USA Volleyball team; you can read more about it here. While she is taking the spot of an Olympian, Kelly Murphy, who is only away for the team for a short break Drews is doing a great job of holding her own. This is just the beginning of a new Olympic cycle but it looks promising for Drews that she could end up playing Tokyo.