Purdue was competitive for two of the four sets but for most of the night they could not keep up with the Nittany Lion offense as they fell 22-25, 14-25, 25-21, 10-25. Purdue struggled with ball control at times and Penn State made them pay for it.
Right off the bat Shondell went with a different lineup moving Danielle Cuttino to middle, starting Caitlyn Newton in her place. Penn State led first, but Purdue used a quick 3-0 run to take the lead, 7-6, and later gave themselves a three point lead, 12-9, with another three point run. Penn State later put together a 5-2 run, fueled by a couple of aces to reclaim the lead, 16-15. Purdue tied it up on the ensuing point and three more times after that but each time Penn State was able to answer, two times with a Simone Lee kill and once Purdue had a hitting error. Down 21-19, Purdue tied it for the last time after Sherridan Atkinson finished off a long rally with a big swing cross court and Ashley Evans swung on the second contact catching Penn State unaware on the next point. Purdue though cracked as Penn State scored the next point then Azariah Stahl committed back-to-back errors sailing one long and roll shotting the next right into the block. Purdue got an extra life when Ali Frantti’s serve went into the net on set point, but Simone Lee finished Purdue off with a first ball kill, tooling the Purdue block, 25-22.
Penn State put together a big run and Purdue was never able to recover in the second set. Penn State led first but Purdue was able to overtake them with a 4-1 run to go in front 9-8. Ashley Evans teamed with Blake Mohler then Danielle Cuttino to tally two blocks then Cuttino slammed home an overpass. On the last point of the run Evans put up a briliant one-handed set that Cuttino put straight down. Sadly that was about it as far as brilliant plays for Purdue in the second set. Penn State ran off the next eight points pretty much sealing Purdue’s fate. Penn State had four kills and two blocks to go with two other Boilermaker hitting errors. Purdue could not slow down the Nittany Lions the rest of way as they won the set 25-14.
Over the first two sets it was neither Haleigh Washington or Simone Lee who were leading Penn State but Ali Frantti and Heidi Thelen who had nine and seven kills respectively and no errors.
Purdue battled from start to finish in the third set, prevailing 25-21. Over the first half of the set the lead changed hands three times, the last time to Penn State, as neither team held more than a two point lead. Down 17-15 Purdue strung together four points. The run was capped on both ends with Penn State errors, in between Cuttino put down an overpass kill and Atkinson got a kill in transition. Penn State tied the set at 19 but stalled themselves with a service error keeping Purdue in front. Atkinson and Cuttino combined for a big block and on the next point Atkinson got a great dig on Haleigh Washington’s slide attack which later led to a Azariah Stahl slamming it down line. Penn State challenged the call, but were unsuccessful however they did win the next two points. Holding on to a one point lead Stahl tooled the Penn State block then the Nittany Lions fold. Brooke Peters aced Frantti and on match point Bryanna Weiskircher could not connect with Washington as she hit the set into the net.
Purdue had an up and down night passing but the fourth set they were decidedly down. Purdue was down 6-4 when Penn State ripped off nine straight points. Purdue couldn’t get the ball to target to get a good swing on the ball, surrenduring two aces, and Penn State was marvelous defensively pulling up a good pass in transition so they could run their offense. Purdue was lucky to even score 10 points as four of them were unforced errors by the Nittany Lions. Purdue hit .000 on the set.
Penn State had four hitters in double figures: Ali Frantti-15 kills, Heidi Thelen-14, Simone Lee-13, and Haleigh Washington 10. Thelen and Washington both hit over .400, .542 and .450 respectively; Washington led with six blocks. Abby Detering put up 34 assist and Bryann Weiskircher tallied 20. Kendall White led their passers with 19 digs. Washington and Weiskircher both served two aces. Penn State hit .336 as a team and put up 10 blocks.
Danielle Cuttino led Purdue with 15 kills, hitting .273. Sherridan Atkinson also reached double figures with 11 kills and was the only other hitter to hit over .100, .269. Ashley Evans dished out 35 assists and led the back row with 14 digs for a double-double. Cuttino had three blocks. The team posted seven blocks and hit .172.
Purdue will be back Saturday night at 7:00 against Rutgers. The Scarlet Knights lost the battle of Big Ten basement falling to IU in five sets Friday night.
The match with Rutgers could be a chance for Purdue to keep working on this alternative lineup. It doesn’t get any easier for Purdue moving forward as they have rematches against No. 7 Nebraska and No. 5 Minnesota in addition to matches with No 9 Wisconsin and No. 10 Michigan State. Purdue also can’t afford to slip up against the likes of Maryland and Iowa. They can help themselves with regards to postseason seeding by avenging the loss to Ohio State and sweeping Michigan. Whether they do that with Danielle Cuttino playing middle or outside remains to be seen, but we likely haven’t seen the last of this lineup. They may not use it from the start of matches but they’ll likely have to use it again down the stretch.