Purdue stood victorious in Holloway Gymnasium on Saturday after a 3-0 run in the Stacey Clark Classic.
Two Boilermakers, junior libero Jena Otec and sophomore setter Hayley Bush, were named members of the Stacey Clark All-Tournament team, and sophomore outside hitter Grace Cleveland was awarded tournament MVP.
“It was a great night for (Cleveland),” head coach Dave Shondell said after Cleveland’s season-high 25-kill performance against Eastern Michigan University. “I think it’ll be a sign of things to come for her.”
“It’s awesome,” Otec said on Cleveland’s weekend performance. “It makes me want to dig a ball or get a good pass so we can feed her the ball pretty much every time. Whenever a hitter gets a hot hand, (Bush) does a great job getting that person the ball, and today it was (Cleveland).”
Otec, who recorded 46 digs in the tournament, made the shift this year from middle to left back in order to play libero. Shondell compared the change to a baseball player shifting from shortstop to second base. While the general play remains the same, the angles and responsibilities will be slightly different.
“For me, it’s all about the communication side of it and bringing my leadership role to the next level,” Otec said.
Bush recorded 116 assists in this weekend’s tournament, highlighted by a season-high 52 against Eastern Michigan (5-7).
“(Bush is) one of the best competitors I’ve ever coached,” Shondell said. “There’s not a setter that I know of in the country that gets to the ball, in passes or digs off the net better than she does.”
The Boilermakers (8-1) made easy work of the competition on Friday, beating Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi and Murray State University in only three sets each.
“We had a big motivation for the whole Stacey Clark tournament and what the tournament means to us,” Bush said.
Formerly called the Boiler Box Challenge, the tournament was renamed in honor of long-time season-ticket holder Stacey Clark, who passed away due to cancer in 2016.
The Boilermakers held Texas A&M-Corpus Christi (8-6) below 15 in each set, opening the classic with a dominant win. Outside hitters senior Blake Mohler and junior Caitlyn Newton led the offensive charge against the Islanders, each finishing the match with nine kills.
“I thought that we played really well,” Shondell said. “I think our team came out with some goals in mind and did a really great job of being ready to play.”
After jumping ahead to an early lead, the Boilermakers did not stagnate, playing with intensity for the duration of the game.
“I thought our bunch found a really good zone to play in from start to finish,” Shondell said.
Friday night’s match against Murray State (6-6) featured a 10-kill performance from Cleveland as well as eight from Mohler. The shock however, came in the third set, when Mohler went down hard on her left ankle. While neither the nature nor the severity of the injury is known, Shondell does not believe it will be too long before Mohler is back in action.
While the Boilermakers struggled early against Eastern Michigan in the wake of Mohler’s injury, Cleveland, Otec and Bush stepped up, leading the team to three consecutive victories after losing the first set.
“The tournament is about adversity and making changes,” Mohler said. “I think whatever team can make the changes the fastest is gonna win the match.”
This weekend, Purdue was that team.
The Boilermakers are now on a six-match winning streak, and they are looking to bring that momentum with them when they enter Big Ten play next week.
“I think there’s a little bit of confidence, but at the same time it’s a fresh slate,” Bush said. “It’s a different world in the Big Ten. We’re gonna have to stay humble because we play some really good teams this next week.”