Technically, women’s soccer is the sport that starts first for Purdue in the college sports calendar, and they have already finished the nonconference season. I’ll be straight with you: I am not much of a soccer fan, and I'm not particularly knowledgable about the sport. However, I will give you some quick recaps and statistics regarding Purdue’s strong nonconference season as the Boilermakers head into Big Ten play:
8/19: Kentucky 1, Purdue 1
Opponent record: 5-1-2 (0-0-0 SEC) Last Year: 1-6-3 (1-4-3 SEC)
The first Purdue sporting event of the 2021-2022 school year ended as a draw. Kentucky drew first blood with a goal in the thirtieth minute, but the Boilermakers responded in the forty-eighth minute to tie the match at one. The match went into a first overtime and a second overtime, but nobody was able to score in either of the additional ten minute overtimes, so that’s how it ended. Sarah Griffith scored the equalizer for Purdue early in the second half, and it was so pretty that it made the ESPN Top Ten. Another note is that the attendance for this game broke the program record, as 2,125 spectators filled into Folk Field for what looked like a great night for a soccer match.
8/22: Purdue 1, #18 Vanderbilt 1
Opponent Record: 3-4-1 (0-0-0 SEC) Last Year: 9-6-1 (8-4-0 SEC)
At first, I was quite happy with the result: forcing a draw on the road against a top-25 opponent that had won the SEC Tournament and made the NCAA tournament last year looked to be a sign that Purdue was ready to compete in the Big Ten. However, it looks like this year’s Vanderbilt team is a shadow of last year’s group and will be worth much less in terms of strength of schedule. Still, Purdue was able to gain an early lead on an Ally Mussallem goal assisted by Aly Mielke and Hannah Lapeire, and that was almost enough. With thirty-nine seconds left in the match, Vanderbilt scored the equalizer, and neither team did anything in the first or the second overtime. With my knowledge of how Vanderbilt's nonconference season has transpired, I would have preferred a win here, but at least it wasn't a loss.
8/26: Purdue 1, Gonzaga 0
Opponent Record: 7-1-0 (0-0-0 WCC) Last Year: 7-3-1 (5-2-1 WCC)
The Boilermakers had put together a couple of solid performances in the first weekend of play, but this is where they finally got into the win column. Gonzaga gave them a fierce battle, but while Marisa Bova kept the score tied with a few key saves in the first half, Nicole Kevdzija broke the goose egg tie with a goal in the sixty-ninth minute, and Bova and the defense held off Gonzaga the rest of the way. Gonzaga has had a strong start that includes a win at Georgia, a team receiving votes in the polls, so this could be a useful win down the road.
8/29: Purdue 5, Ball State 1
Opponent Record: 2-4-0 (0-0-0 MAC) Last Year: 6-3-1 (6-2-1 MAC)
With Ball State being one of the better teams in the MAC last season, I would have expected this game to be more of a challenge. However, Purdue was able to roll the Cardinals based on a huge game from Sarah Griffith. Griffith scored her first collegiate hat trick and the sixth hat trick in Purdue’s history in the victory. As well, Abigail Roy and Sydney Duarte also scored goals for the Boilermakers, and seven different Boilermakers assisted on a goal.
9/2: Notre Dame 1, Purdue 0
Opponent Record: 6-1-1 (0-0-0 ACC) Last Year: 6-7-0 (4-4-0 ACC)
The Boilermakers’ lossless streak was ended by a Notre Dame team receiving votes in the polls. It was a back-and-forth battle for most of the match, but Notre Dame scored in the fifty-ninth minute and Purdue could not find a response. The defense kept Purdue in the match for the whole way, but the offense registered only six shots, four of which were on goal. Notre Dame has faced off against multiple other Big Ten teams, and they’ve fared pretty well: besides the Purdue match, they beat Wisconsin 2-1 in Madison and tied with Indiana 0-0 at home. As well, in exhibition play, they beat Ohio State 3-2 at home and Illinois 4-0 in Champaign. Take from this what you will, but it tells me that this won’t be a bad loss and Purdue is matching up pretty well with most of its conference rivals.
9/5: Purdue 2, Saint Louis 1
Opponent Record: 2-5-1 (0-0-0 A-10) Last Year: 15-1-0 (8-0-0 A-10)
Saint Louis was not only one of the best mid-majors last year, they were considered one of the best teams in the nation. After getting a bye in the first round, they took a disappointing loss in the second round via penalty kicks to Washington, but it was still a really good year for the Billikens. This year is shaping up to be much more disappointing for Saint Louis, but this could still be a decent win for the Boilermakers. In the first half, the defense held down the Billiken attack while the offense looked for opportunities, but ultimately couldn’t produce anything. Purdue finally broke through with a Sydney Duarte goal in the fifty-fifth minute, assisted by Gracie Dunaway. With under nine minutes to go, Sarah Griffith added another goal, assisted by Lauren Holleran, to give Purdue more breathing room. This goal gave her five for the season, tying her season high and putting her only three goals back of Purdue’s top ten in program history.
9/9: Purdue 2, Kansas State 0
Opponent Record: 4-4-0 (0-0-0 Big Twelve) Last Year: 3-9-2 (3-6-0 Big Twelve)
Kansas State is likely going to be a bottom feeder in the Big Twelve, but Purdue still took care of business with a win under the lights of Folk Field. Offensively, Emily Matthews scored the first goal in the twenty-sixth minute, assisted by Sydney Boudreau, to give the Boilermakers the lead. In the eighty-third minute, Gracie Dunaway tacked on some insurance for the Boilermakers with another goal, assisted by Aly Mielke. Both of these goals were collegiate firsts. Meanwhile, Marisa Bova saved both shots that came her way to notch the fifteenth shutout of her Purdue career, moving her to third place in the Purdue record books. Credit also goes to the team defense for preventing Kansas State from attempting any more than two shots on goal.
9/12: Purdue 3, Colorado 1
Opponent Record: 4-3-0 (0-0-0 Pac-12) Last Year: 9-6-2 (5-4-2 Pac-12)
Purdue was able to cap their nonconference season with a pretty good win against Colorado. The Buffaloes actually struck first with a goal in the eighteenth minute, but Purdue tied it again about thirteen minutes later with an Aly Mielke goal. The Boilermakers dominated the second half, with goals from Ally Mussallem and Sydney Boudreau before the start of the sixty-third minute. Meanwhile, the Purdue defense prevented the Buffaloes from scoring again. In terms of assists, Gracie Dunaway had two, while Emily Mathews and Teagan Jones added one each. Marisa Bova also made some nice stops to prevent Colorado from adding to their early tally.
*Purdue finishes their nonconference season 5-1-2, which is tied for seventh in the conference.
*There were four Big Ten teams that made the NCAA tournament last season, and Purdue will face three of them: Iowa, Ohio State, and Penn State, in conference play.
*Three Big Ten teams are currently ranked in the Top 25: #9 Rutgers, #14 Penn State, and #16 Michigan. Additionally, Ohio State is receiving votes.
*In terms of individual statistics, Sarah Griffith is tied for the Big Ten lead in shots, tied for third in shots on goal, tied for third in goals, and tied for ninth in points. As well, Gracie Dunaway is tied for tenth in the Big Ten in assists, and Marisa Bova is tied for fourth in save percentage and second in saves per game.
It’s been a solid start for the Boilermakers, but now they enter the rigors of conference play. Purdue was ranked eleventh place out of fourteen in the preseason poll, but based on what I’ve seen so far, I think Purdue can perform better than that. Purdue starts with two winnable road matches at Nebraska on Sunday and at Illinois on September 23rd. If they take care of business on the road and then defeat an Iowa squad at Folk Field who has played about as well as Purdue, that would put them at 3-0 in conference with Michigan coming to town. Beating Michigan would be a massive shock, but it isn’t impossible, especially since Purdue has been very good at Folk Field this year. Really, the only matches that I see as guaranteed losses are Ohio State and Penn State, both of which are on the road. I would guess that an average season, something like 5-4-1 or 4-4-2 in conference play, is quite reasonable. I fully expect Purdue to make the Big Ten tournament, and while it would take significant improvement to make the NCAA tournament, it is not entirely impossible.