Despite building a 2-1 set advantage, Purdue volleyball finished its regular season with a 3-2 defeat in a nail-biter against Illinois on Saturday afternoon at Holloway Gymnasium.
The Boilermakers (14-6) rolled through the first set 25-15, buoyed by four kills from sophomore outside hitter Maddy Chinn and an error-prone Fighting Illini (7-11) attack.
Chinn’s fourth kill forced a set point after she fired a laser beam of a strike that shot off her fist and found an empty space between two Illini defenders. The aggressive attack set up Purdue to win the set after an attack error by Illinois sophomore outside setter Bruna Vrankovic.
Vrankovic posed an unanswerable threat for the Boilermaker defense all afternoon, finishing with a game-high 23 kills.
But just like in their matchup Friday night, Illinois roared back in the second set, keeping the score close with booming kills from Vrankovic and freshman outside hitter Raina Terry before pressing their advantage.
A 16-12 Boilermaker lead kept shrinking until the Illini carved out an 20-18 lead that forced a Purdue timeout. Illinois was resilient in digging out Boilermaker kills and continued to create good scoring chances, pushing their lead to 22-19.
Johnson then had another kill reversed the ball rocketed back and forth between the two sides, critically flipping a one-point Boilermaker deficit to a three-point Illini advantage.
This would prove to be decisive, with the Illini winning the set 25-21, evening the match at 1-1 apiece. It was Purdue’s first set loss at home since its Feb. 20 match against Northwestern (3-11).
Purdue opened the third set with back-to-back kills from its outside hitter tandem of junior Grace Cleveland and senior Caitlyn Newton, jumping to an early 6-2 advantage.
Newton would finish with 14 kills, with Cleveland following close after with 12 kills to go along with six blocks.
Fatigue started setting in during the fourth set, with both teams combining to make 20 errors. A Cleveland attack error and a Vrankovic kill gave Illinois a 13-12 lead, its first of the set.
The game then became a back-and-forth affair with the teams trading the lead several times as the set wore on, culminating in a 25-25 tie. Back-to-back Purdue errors – a service error by Johnson and an attack error by Chinn – helped Illinois snatch a second set win and force a deciding fifth set.
The Fighting Illini jumped out to a 6-2 advantage in the fifth game and didn't look back from there, ultimately winning 15-11. Illinois outside hitter Megan Cooney finished off the Black & Gold with a thunderous kill, her 14th of the match.
The Boilermaker loss snapped a five-game winning streak and and puts the team's final record at 14-6, good for fifth in the Big Ten. The team next plays in the first round of the 2021 NCAA Volleyball Championship on April 14.
- Illinois outside hitters Bruna Vrankovic and Raina Terry combined for 40 kills
- Illinois defensive setter Taylor Kuper led both teams with 26 digs.