4/3/21 Illinois, Grace Cleveland

Junior outside hitter Grace Cleveland serves the ball. Purdue lost to Illinois during a match at home on Saturday.

Matching the excitement and emotion of a tightly contested match where the scrappy No. 8 Florida Gators team took the No. 1 Wisconsin Badgers to the wire would not be easy.

But the No. 7 seeded Boilers (16-7) kept it interesting in a 3-0 loss to the No. 2 overall No. 2 Kentucky Wildcats (22-1) Monday night in Omaha, Nebraska. Kentucky ended up advancing to the Final Four by defeating Purdue, 25-23, 25-20 and 25-16.

Purdue's fourth ever trip to the Elite Eight in school history was highlighted by a back-and-forth bout that was only made more exciting by the sheer intensity and aggressiveness that both teams started the match with.

A powerful Kentucky offense was paired with a defense that remained seemingly impenetrable throughout the entire night. Wildcat senior libero Gabby Curry constantly found herself in the right place at the right time to counter Purdue hits, ending the game with a team-leading 16 digs.

Purdue's biggest source of offense would come by matching Kentucky's defensive intensity through blocked attacks at the net and forced errors against one of the college volleyballs biggest offensive juggernauts.

This wouldn't come easy, as Kentucky slammed Purdue's defense with several strong spikes throughout the match, hoping to wear down the Boilermaker defense just enough to start creating a consistent rhythm for the rest of the match.

A valiant effort from the Purdue defense was able to initially counter the thundering Wildcat strikes at the beginning of every set, causing Kentucky to start off with just three kills and seven errors.

Their determination only got them so far, as several comeback runs for the Wildcats would seal two straight set victories for Kentucky. A worn-down Purdue roster eventually cracked in the third set, scoring 16 points to Kentucky's 25. A 7-2 mid-set run lit a small spark of hope, causing a rowdy Purdue bench to continue their cheers and chants, but the error-riddled set officially ended a dominant season for the Boilermakers.

The biggest rivalry of the night would arguably be between two former Ball-State volleyball teammates in Purdue assistant coach John Shondell and Kentucky head coach Craig Skinner. Both coaches have been a part of one of their respective school's most successful runs in their history after departing from their historic run at Ball State under head coach Don Shondell.

In 16 seasons as the lead man in Kentucky, Skinner has racked up 353 wins and 15 straight tournament appearances according to the Kentucky Wildcats. John, an assistant to his older brother Dave, has helped coach the Boilermakers to 13 NCAA tournament appearances in 16 years along with three of the school's four Elite Eight appearances.

Game Notes:

  • Senior hitter Caitlyn Newton led Purdue with 10 kills. She was the team's only player with double-digit kills.
  • Junior setter Hayley Bush had her first game of less than 25 assists since a Feb. 19 win against Northwestern (24).
  • Kentucky led Purdue in every major statistical category except blocks. Purdue had seven while Kentucky had six.
  • Freshman blocker Taylor Trammel continued being an anchor for Purdue's defense at the net, ending the game with a match-leading four blocks.

Recommended for you