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Purdue Volleyball: NCAA Tournament First Weekend Preview

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The Boilers will open the tournament down in Lexington against a tough ETSU team. Purdue finished sixth in the Big Ten this season but didn’t score enough upsets to earn hosting privileges.

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Purdue (23-8, 12-8) split their final matches of the regular season beating IU in five sets then falling to Illinois in four missing out on one last chance to score a signature win. Purdue missed on hosting as they had only collected two RPI Top 50 wins this year so they’ll play in the Kentucky sub-regional this weekend.

East Tennessee State awaits the Boilers in the first round while the host Wildcats will face Murray State. Purdue and the Bucs will play the first match Friday at 5:00 ET on ESPN3/WatchESPN. Should Purdue advance to the second round match is scheduled for 7:00 Saturday.

Big Ten Honors

Sherridan Atkinson, Blake Mohler, and Erin Williams were recognized by the Big Ten this week. Atkinson and Mohler made the All-Big Ten First Team, Atkinson was a unanimous selection, and Williams was Purdue’s Sportsmanship Honoree.

Atkinson, who was a First Team All-Big Ten last season, led all Big Ten athletes this season with 525 total kills while also hitting .302; her 525 kills already put her in 9th place on Purdue’s season record list. Her 4.26 kills per set average was third in the league. Atkinson also scores well from the service line tallying 22 aces. Even more impressive though may be her 184 digs this season.

Mohler earned First Team recognition after posting the seventh-best hitting percentage in the league, .353, which led Purdue. Mohler is Purdue’s leading blocker with 131 total blocks. She’s also third on the team with 300 kills this season.

Minnesota’s Samantha Seliger-Swenson was the league Player of the Year and split Setter of the Year honors with Illinois’ Jordyn Poulter. Gopher Head Coach Hugh McCutcheon was the coaches’ and media’s Coach of the Year pick. Penn State claimed two awards as libero Kendall White was the Defensive Player of the Year and Jonni Parker was the Freshman of the Year.

Tournament Outlook

Bracket

Purdue will have their work cut out for them if they’re going to make a run. They’re in the Minnesota region which also includes Nebraska. Not to mention what it will take to make it past this weekend. Minnesota has not been playing as well lately but you can’t underestimate home court advantage and the drive to win a National Championship at home. Senior, Samantha Seliger-Swenson is going to do all she can to leave her mark on the program and bring home their first national title.

Looking at other regions it certainly seems like No. 1 Stanford will make it to the National Championship. The Cardinal have no glaring weaknesses and their junior class, led by Kathryn Plummer, is so talented. Not to mention they’ve already won this all before in 2016.

The No. 4 BYU region seems the most wide open. The Cougars lost a starter to injury and promptly lost their regular season finale. No. 5 Texas will look to win this region but they could face a stiff test from unseeded Florida who finally has heralded freshman Thayer Hall back.

The right side of the bracket could put two Big Ten teams in the Final Four, No. 2 Minnesota and No. 3 Illinois or No. 6 Wisconsin. The two schools split the season series. Of course, you can’t forget No. 11 USC who has been up and down this season but could make a run.

Purdue

It’s been a few seasons since Purdue made it past the first weekend and scored any big upsets. If Purdue is going to get back to that and advance to next weekend the passers will have to elevate their play. Hayley Bush too will have to make smarter decisions. Late in sets she’s had costly ball handling errors and put up bad balls for Atkinson. Those can’t happen this weekend. It also will be important for Purdue to move their hitters around. Grace Cleveland seems to do better when she’s set in from pin and Newton does well on a high ball from the middle of the court. Another part of this is actually setting Jael Johnson or whoever plays the second middle blocker. If Bush ignores her offensively Purdue becomes much easier to block. It’s a lot to put on Bush’s shoulders but Purdue’s postseason success will come down to how she runs the offense.

Key Players

class, height, position, # name, stats (statistical rank nationally)
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

Rs Fr. 5’10 S 2 Hayley Bush- 10.97 A/S (31)

Sr. 5’9 L 3 Brooke Peters- 4.18 D/S, 0.31 SA/S

So. 6’1 OH 4 Caitlyn Newton- 2.56 K/S

Fr. 5’7 DS 10 Marissa Hornung- 2.96 D/S

Sr. 6’5 OH/RS 16 Sherridan Atkinson- 4.23 K/S (28), .298, 0.27 SA/S

Jr. 6’2 M 17 Blake Mohler- 2.42 K/S, .353, 1.06 B/S

Fr. 6’3 MB/OH 20 Grace Cleveland- 2.38 K/S, 0.79 B/S

Purdue Team Stats

Comparison Kills/Set Hitting % Assists/Set Aces/Set Digs/Set Blocks/Set
Comparison Kills/Set Hitting % Assists/Set Aces/Set Digs/Set Blocks/Set
Purdue 13.35 .247 12.48 1.35 14.53 2.34
Opponents 12.47 .192 11.65 1.19 14.27 1.70

East Tennessee State

ETSU (28-6, 15-1) won the SoCon regular-season title but fell in their tournament championship to Samford as they earned an at-large bid into this year’s tournament. They earned their at-large bid after beat RPI 26 Tennessee, 44 Duke, and 14 Washington State during the preseason; the Bucs themselves were 33rd in the RPI rankings. This is the Bucs third NCAA Tournament appearance, second in a row. Purdue has faced ETSU once before, back in 2004 as Purdue swept the Bucs.

ETSU is a sound team who, as evidenced by the non-conference results, can beat quality teams. They’re experienced and low-error; their only underclassmen who is a key contributor is the conference’s two-time Libero of the Year. They hit .250 as a team with all hitters hitting .220 or better. They’re also stingy on defense not surrendering any easy points.

Leah Clayton is the star of the show for ETSU and she has a good counterpart in AJ Lux. Purdue has to focus on slowing them down but they can’t ignore the other hitters as they can all score. This match will come down to passing and errors. Whoever can stay in system and capitalize on their opportunities is going to advance.

Key Players

Jr. 6’1 MB 5 Kaela Massey- .260, 2.07 D/S

Sr. 6’2 MB 7 Mariah McPartland$- .310, 1.13 B/S

Jr. 5’11 OH 8 Leah Clayton*#- 4.03 K/S (48), .236, 2.76 D/S

So. 5’5 L 9 Marija Popovic!#- 5.25 D/S (30)

Sr. 5’10 OH/RS 10 AJ Lux- 3.13 K/S

Sr. 5’8 S 12 Alyssa Kvarta#- 10.82 A/S (37), 2.34 D/S, 0.3 SA/S

Sr. 6’0 MB 17 Braedyn Tutton$- .316, 1.03 B/S

* SoCon Player of the Year

! SoCon Libero of the Year

# SoCon First Team

$ SoCon Second Team

Head Coach Lindsey Devine-SoCon Coach of the Year

ETSU Team Stats

Comparison Kills/Set Hitting % Assists/Set Aces/Set Digs/Set Blocks/Set
Comparison Kills/Set Hitting % Assists/Set Aces/Set Digs/Set Blocks/Set
ETSU 13.75 .249 12.77 1.16 15.98 2.38
Opponents 12.09 .159 (18) 11.59 0.98 15.31 1.60

There are two Indiana natives on the ETSU roster: Lux from Shelbyville and Kvarta from Crown Point. There are also is pair of high school teammates between the two teams. Massey of ETSU played with Garrett Joiner at Brentwood High School in Tennessee.