The Boilermakers will have a much different look this season. Gone is All-American Sherridan Atkinson and so the Boilers no longer have a go-to point scorer. Despite the loss of Atkinson, a middle blocker, an outside hitter, and three defensive specialists this year’s team has a chance to improve on last year’s second round finish.
This preview will look at the roster, non-conference schedule, Big Ten schedule, TV schedule, the preseason Big Ten honors, and AVCA poll.
The season gets underway Sunday at 2:00 against Ohio University at home. Tuesday, Purdue hosts Ball State at 7:00; both matches are available on BTN+.
DS Brooke Peters- Graduation
MB Erin Williams- Graduation
RS Sherridan Atkinson- Graduation
DS Julianna Reisinger- No longer on the team but still enrolled at Purdue
DS Olivia Van Zelst- No longer on the team but still enrolled at Purdue
OH Garrett Joiner- Transferred to Lipscomb
While all these departures hurt the most impactful was, of course, Sherridan Atkinson graduating. She came to Purdue as a redshirt transfer with only a handful of kills and finished her career with over 1200. Her career tally is17th best in program history and her 546 kills last season are 7th best on the season list. You can’t replace that kind of production, certainly not with just one player.
The passing corp for the Boilers was also impacted. Outgoing senior Brooke Peters had an up and down season and by season’s end was no longer wearing the libero jersey but was still very important for Purdue. Reisinger was a great server and was most often a sub for Atkinson.
Joiner only appeared in five matches last season as she was just a year out from an ACL injury; the transfer to Lipscomb moves her back home to Nashville.
6’1 Jr. OH Caitlyn Newton
6’3 So. OH Grace Cleveland
6’2 Sr. MB Shavona Cuttino
6’2 Sr. MB Blake Mohler
6’2 So. MB Jael Johnson
5’10 So. S Hayley Bush
5’10 So. S Joy Chen
5’7 So. DS Marissa Hornung
5’5 So. DS Emma Terwilliger
5’10 Jr. DS Jena Otec
*Returning starters are bolded.
There is a good core to build around for this season. Blake Mohler has the most accolades of anyone on the roster. She’s an intense, athletic middle and who sets the tone the Boilers. Joining her on the front line are Caitlyn Newton and Grace Cleveland who both can go off but do at times have their struggles. Leading the defense and passing are Jena Otec and Marissa Hornung who are both solid and worthy of the libero jersey.
5’1 Fr. DS Ava Torrance- Avon, IN- Incoming freshman
6’2 Fr. S Megan Renner- Cedar Rapids, IA- Incoming freshman
6’2 Fr. OH Maddy Chinn- Oakland Township, MI- Incoming Freshman
5’10 Fr. DS Maddie Schermerhorn- Ligonier, IN- Incoming Freshman
6’2 Fr. OH Emma Ellis- Charlotte, NC- Incoming Freshman
6’1 Fr. OH Madeline Koch- Ashwaubenon, WI- Incoming Freshman
The freshman class is talented, eighth-best in the country per PrepVolleyball.com, and gives Purdue more depth. The trio of hitters will be duking it out for a starting spot and they all could see action throughout the season. The passers too are in the mix for a contributing role. Renner is an exciting prospect which we’ll have to wait and see if Shondell decides to redshirt her.
OH 1- Caitlyn Newton
OH 2- Emma Ellis
MB 1- Blake Mohler
MB 2- Jael Johnson
RS- Grace Cleveland
S- Hayley Bush
L- Jena Otec
DS (OH 2)- Marissa Hornung
DS (RS)- Ava Torrance
Key Reserves: Maddy Chinn, Maddie Schermerhorn, Madeline Koch
Newton, Mohler, and Bush are locks. Newton this season will look to make the transition to playing six rotations. Cleveland will be making the move from outside to the right side spot vacated by Atkinson. Ellis is the highest-rated recruit in the heralded class and may get the first crack at the starting spot as she is the closest to being a six rotation player. Jael Johnson was getting most of the starts towards season’s end however Shondell, for better or worse, is loyal to his upperclassmen which may give Shavona Cuttino the nod over Jael Johnson to start the season. As for the libero the spot it’s a toss-up between Otec and Hornung.
This past spring Shondell scheduled a challenging lineup as they faced Illinois and Wisconsin. What seemed like positive foreshadowing for a tough non-conference slate didn’t quite materialize. While Purdue will face two teams ranked in the AVCA preseason poll they’ll face six teams that fell outside the RPI top 100 last season, one even over 200. Even winning all those matches could drag Purdue’s RPI down, not to mention a loss. Purdue could again be hitting the road come NCAA Tournament time.
The Bobcats had three athletes named to the East All-MAC team but are not the division favorite. One honoree was their setter, Vera Giacomazzi. The Bobcats have a slew of upperclassmen which combined with a quality setter could spell upset but it seems unlikely the Boilers would trip in their season opener.
Ball State is the favorite in the weaker West Division in the MAC. Two Cardinals were named to the preseason West All-MAC team. Purdue will surely get Ball State’s best effort and the Cardinal’s coaching staff is well-acquainted with the Purdue program as head coach Kelli Miller Phillips and Tiffany (Fisher) Koors both played for Shondell.
The Irish are looking to improve on their sixth-place ACC performance last season. Conference coaches picked them to finish fourth this season and tabbed three athletes for the preseason All-Conference team; Sydney Bent, Charley Niego, and Zoe Nunez who are all sophomores. Key for the Irish will be ball control. Reigning ACC Defensive Player of the year and the program digs leader Ryann DeJarld graduated. So long as the Irish have a capable replacement they should be in good shape.
Louisville is looking to cement themselves as one of the top ACC teams. They finished third last season and are picked to finish there again this season. Melanie McHenry is the leading returner for the Cardinals and was named to the preseason All-ACC team. The biggest concern for Louisville is replacing their outgoing setter and libero. The setting position isn’t settled yet, but when it comes together the Cardinals will be a legitimate threat.
Purdue will play one or the other according to the outcome of their match with Louisville and the Lipscomb-Xavier match.
The reigning SEC champs are the favorite to win it again this year. They have three preseason All-SEC performers who all earned All-American Honors last season: setter, Madison Lilley; outside hitter, Leah Edmond; and libero, Gabby Curry. Top performers at those positions are essential but Kentucky may be held back by the rest of their roster. They have another capable outside hitter in Ali Stumler but there are still question marks as to the right side hitter and second middle blocker positions.
Texas A&M - Corpus Christi
Some coaches are believers in the Islanders and others aren’t. Corpus Christi got three first-place votes but cumulatively came in at fifth in the Southland coaches poll. The Islanders are the lowest RPI team Purdue will face.
The Racers are the Ohio Valley favorite after having won their third OVC tournament in five years last season. They only graduated one starter from last year’s squad and return two preseason OVC performers.
Fresh off their first-ever NCAA Tournament appearance, after an underdog run through the MAC tournament, EMU is hungry for more. The Eagles are led by senior middle blocker Cassie Haut who was their lone West All-MAC preseason honoree.
Big Ten Schedule
The Badgers lost only one starter from last year’s Elite Eight squad. The improvement shown by the remaining starters will determine how far Wisconsin will go. Junior, middle blocker Dana Rettke who spent a good part of the summer with the USA National team playing in the Volleyball Nations League and Olympic qualifying tournament rightfully gets most of the attention but she can’t carry them to a title by herself. The Badgers will need consistent production from their pin hitters to keep defenses honest. Molly Haggerty is now two years out from her back injury and will look to return to All-American form. If Haggerty can get back to the same level of production from her freshman year the Badgers will go far. The addition of ex-Gopher Lauren Barnes also helps shore up some problem areas for Wisconsin as she is a great server, passer, and defender.
While no one can expect two freshmen to immediately step in and replace departed All-Americans Mikaela Foecke and Kenzie Maloney the Huskers have brought in two all-star freshmen to fill the roles. Libero Kenzie Knuckles and outside hitter Madi Kubik join a stout starting lineup who is looking for an offensive identity since Foecke is gone. Last season outside hitter Lexi Sun never truly hit her stride with inconsistent performances all season similarly right side hitter Jazz Sweet was hit or miss. Sophomore Capri Davis has shown tremendous improvement which will make it hard for Coach John Cook to keep her off the court. Expect some shuffling of the lineup as the Huskers figure out what works best for the senior-less lineup. Through it, all though expect the same tough serving and defense.
Life without Samantha Seliger-Swenson may be rough to start the season as the Gophers run the gauntlet in non-conference play. Minnesota brought in a transfer setter to dish the ball to all their returning hitters who are among some of the nation’s best. One blow to the Gopher lineup was the transfer of defensive specialist Lauren Barnes to Wisconsin. Nevertheless, expect the Gophers to continue their quick, efficient, low-error play as they look to get back to a Final Four.
The Nittany Lions are a couple of seasons away from really contending in the Big Ten. They have six freshmen and nine sophomores on this year’s squad. The offense will be led by sophomores preseason All-Big Ten players Jonni Parker and Kaitlyn Hord. They’ll have a new setter running the show as Gabby Blossom takes over for Bryanna Weiskircher. How quickly the roster comes together and newcomers adjust will be the difference between upsetting the top teams in the league or just beating the teams they’re supposed to beat. As good a passer and defender as libero Kendall White is good ball control won’t alleviate all their offensive concerns.
Like Penn State, the Illini have a slew of newcomers and have to replace an outgoing setter. From an offensive standpoint though, the Illini are ahead of the Nittany Lions. Illinois returns First Team All-American outside hitter Jacqueline Quade and four other hitters from last year’s Final Four team. No disrespect to the setters battling for the starting job but it will be a tall task to expect the Illinois offense to run as fluidly as it did last season with Jordyn Poulter commanding the floor. It may get there towards season’s end but there may be hiccups early in the season. Not to mention the loss of frontline defense provided by Poulter and the program’s leading blocker Ali Bastianelli.
Similar to the Boilers, Michigan graduated their main point scorer and have to figure out who they are. A bigger issue though for the Wolverines is the first contact. Michigan only has three defensive specialists on their roster and all three are in the running for the libero spot which doesn’t signify that this is a position of confidence. This also forces some hitters to pass and play defense that may not be comfortable or particularly proficient in that sort of role.
The Buckeyes are looking to rebound after a rough 12-20 season, 3-17 in league play, last year. They have a freshman setter who will give them more stability at this position. Otherwise, there is plenty of competition for the remaining starting spots due in part to a talented freshman class who may see a lot of action this season.
The Spartans are one of the teams looking to rise to the top of the bottom half of the conference. They have a high-level middle blocker in sophomore Naya Gros but no one else on the roster is at that same level. Setting and the libero position are two glaring weaknesses that won’t likely be much better this season than last.
Maryland only graduated two players from last season, an outside hitter and a defensive specialist, and finished a game under .500 in conference play. Despite that, the conference coaches were not particularly high on the Terrapins. Unlike some of the teams picked above them, the Terrapins have two above-average hitters, outside Erika Pritchard and middle Katie Myers, and have a competent setter and libero. They also added a heralded freshman outside hitter, Rebekah Rath. Rath re-classified and graduated early to join the Terrapins this year so expect to see her on the floor opposite Pritchard. In summary, do not sleep on the Terrapins.
Indiana is on the up-and-up with Steve Aird at the helm. They were much more competitive last season in his inaugural season. Aird has been working hard to instill his culture and change the perception of his program. This offseason he sent a message to his team and the rest of college volleyball as he brought in nine new players, four freshmen, and five transfers. This prompted three defections from the 2018 Hoosier roster.
Several newcomers will see immediate action. The two biggest additions to the roster are Kari Zumach from Creighton who will likely be a starter at either the right or left pin, and incoming freshman setter Emily Fitzner who was an Under Armour All-American. The rest of the newcomers will be battling it out for spots in the lineup. Also big for the Hoosiers is the return of Kendall Beerman who tore her ACL last season. Similar to Maryland, folks around the league may be underestimating the Hoosiers and the pace of this turnaround.
Northwestern has all their starters back from last season but that doesn’t mean they’ll be much better this year. They did bring a graduate transfer setter and some talented freshman but ball control issues will likely continue to hold them back. The Wildcats serve surprisingly tough but surrender a lot of aces themselves.
Iowa has a new but familiar face at the helm of the programs this season. Former associate head coach Vicki Brown was promoted to interim head coach after former head coach Bond Shymansky was let go this summer due to an NCAA rules violation. Shymansky gave an athlete money for rent over the summer after her scholarship status changed. Iowa went ahead and fired him instead of waiting for the final NCAA ruling.
Brown though has the tall task of replacing the nation’s outgoing active kill leader, Taylor Louis, their libero, and two hitters, one lost to graduation and another to a medical retirement. The Hawkeyes have a large freshman class who will look to pick up the slack. Fortunate for Iowa they have a veteran setter, Brie Orr, guiding everyone as they revamp most of their roster. Iowa may surprise a team or two this season but they’ll still likely be jockeying for position with the rest of the bottom half of the league.
The Scarlet Knights are looking for their first Big Ten win since 2015, and this might be the year they get it. They have a great setter running the show and added the No. 35 recruit in this year’s class.
My pick to win the conference is Nebraska, in large part because of their schedule. Unlike some other Big Ten teams, Nebraska is easing into conference play. They will play Stanford but otherwise, they are not playing as rigorous preseason slate as the other league contenders. In conference play, they only play twice against one of the conference contenders, Wisconsin. Minnesota, Illinois and Penn State all face two teams twice and conference favorite Wisconsin has two matches each with Nebraska, Minnesota, and Penn State. The Huskers get Penn State at home and face Illinois and Minnesota on the road. Fortunate for the Huskers they also get two games against Michigan State, Maryland, Northwestern, Iowa, and Rutgers who are all projected to fall in the bottom half of the league; half of their conference slate is practically guaranteed wins. When you add in they are of course a good team and John Cook is a tremendous coach its a winning combination. Like the Gophers last season they make take the conference title by a couple of games.
Seven matches will air on television this season across BTN, ESPN2, and ESPNU.
9-28 @ Minnesota - BTN
10-4 vs. Northwestern - BTN
10-6 vs. Illinois - ESPNU
10-16 @ Nebraska - ESPNU
10-26 vs. Nebraska - BTN
10-30 vs. Indiana - BTN
11-3 vs. Minnesota - ESPN2
Preseason Big Ten Honors
While the national coaches poll favored the Gophers as the top Big Ten team heading into the season the Big Ten coaches tabbed Wisconsin as the preseason favorite. Nebraska was also picked in front of the Gophers who came in in third. They were followed by Penn State and Illinois. The Boilers came in at sixth, first of the rest of the pack as Wisconsin, Nebraska, Minnesota, Penn State, and Illinois are seemingly on a separate tier from the rest of the league.
- Penn State
- Ohio State
- Michigan State
Blake Mohler was Purdue’s lone preseason All-Big Ten selection after a Third Team All-American season last year. There were three unanimous selections: Jacqueline Quade, Illinois; Kendall White, Penn State; and Dana Rettke, Wisconsin. Full list here.
1. Stanford (62)
2. Nebraska (1)
8. Penn State (1)
Big Ten Teams also Ranked: 15 Michigan, 17 Purdue
Purdue will face two ranked teams in non-conference play: No. 7 Kentucky and No. 25 Louisville.