I think it's time for Ross-Ade to stop calling itself "The Furnace" after a year (it's a pathetic name for it anyways) and give that title to Holloway Gym after today's games. It was so hot in there that both teams had to change jerseys at the half, something I have never seen before. Though it was much cooler outside, the humidity outdoors did not help the situation inside (and also 4 games in a row probably didn't help either). Regardless, though it took a toll on everyone at the game, especially tonight, the heat became an advantage for Purdue, who practices in the same non-air conditioned gym during the brutal summer months.
Normally, 10am games are scheduled to be easy wins for Purdue, but the game against South Florida this morning was anything but an easy win. I had a feeling it was going to be a challenge given how well USF was warming up with little errors. Though Purdue came out swinging in most of the sets, a couple of silly errors gave the Bulls a spark to light a run that would make each set close. Coach Shondell said after the game that even though it was a sweep, it certainly did not feel like it and USF seems to be a much better team than they were last year. USF did not make the tournament last year, but if they keep up their hard style of play, they could make the tourney this year if they can get the wins.
As for the San Diego game, just as I said at the beginning, it was a hot one as soon as you walked into the building. San Diego looked strong throughout most of the game, but Purdue had big runs in each set that ultimately put the game away and limited most come backs for San Diego. San Diego started off the 3rd set in the drivers seat, but the heat got to them and started making silly errors that a Top 15 team shouldn't make. It may suck for the fans that there is no AC in the gym, but it truly does seem to offer some home court advantage. (During the starting line up introductions, the Purdue crowd cheered for #13 Alexa Banker, a senior OH/RS for San Diego, who is from West Lafayette and a graduate of Harrison High School.)
I'm not saying much about each game because I am exhausted. I do want to say that this team is not perfect though. Both the South Florida and San Diego games could have taken an ugly turn if it weren't for certain players stepping up at the right time. It seems that the team is struggling a bit without last year's seniors. Of all the freshmen, only RS frosh Ashley Evans saw significant playing time. The only other freshmen who played, at least in tonights game, were Lydia Dimke, Azariah Stahl, and Danielle Cuttino. Dimke has some room to develop along with Cuttino, but Stahl has a nasty strike, much like Annie Drews. I expect big things out of Ashley Evans and Azariah Stahl this year.
Hopefully, this team can get better as the year goes on, as many of today's errors were silly ones that should be corrected throughout the year. I saw Shondell yelling at the players a few times, which I haven't seen awhile, but also because he expects a big year from his squad. You can't make it to the Final 4 when you make 15-16 hitting errors a night and committing service errors. There is room to grow for this team and some time to do it, but this team needs to fix them soon to finish towards the top of the B1G and be seeded in the tournament in December.
Purdue faces LSU tomorrow, who were in last year's tournament and beat the only Big Ten team not to make it to the Sweet 16 (Michigan). Tickets are $2 with your football ticket stub, so I suggest sticking around for it (I may try to convince Travis to come to help him sober up after our trip to Harry's, but we will see).