Fresh off a Top 25 win, the No. 11 Purdue volleyball team downed Northwestern in relatively short order on Friday night.
This was the Wildcats' (2-1) first game since January due to a COVID-19 related athletic pause. The team showed the work it put in during its break in the match, and the bench's camaraderie backed it up. The Northwestern bench spent its night on its feet hollering chants, dancing and cheering louder than the Boilermaker fans in the stand.
The Boilers (5-4) were unfazed by the Wildcat sideline and took the first set 25-20 after a service ace from junior blocker Jael Johnson to take a 1-0 lead over the Wildcats.
"I think it's important for your bench to bring some enthusiasm to the match," Coach Dave Shondell said. "I wasn't watching them, but in this season when you only have 100 fans in the stands it's an important opportunity to keep your players engaged."
The first set's result was the closest the Cats would get to victory all night, but they kept the pace close for most of the second set. The Wildcats countered big plays from Purdue in quick fashion, never letting the momentum fully shift to the Boilermakers. But six blocks, three aces and a .393 hitting percentage kept the train chugging and gave the Boilermakers a 25-15 win in the set.
"We had a lot of service errors tonight," Newton said. "I think we can cut down on those and other things that we can control. And once we do that, we can take that next step."
A 2-0 deficit was too much to overcome for the Wildcats in the end. The Boilermakers closed out the win 25-14 in the third set, giving Purdue a dominant 3-0 victory.
Overall, the Boilers played strong. Early growing pains gave the impression that the match would be a back-and-forth game. But the long rest that Northwestern came in with proved to be no match for the battle-tested Boilermakers. The Boilers refused to let the Wildcats make crucial plays in the second and third set and sent them back to the hotel with a -.050 hitting percentage.
Senior hitter Caitlyn had a performance Boilermaker fans have come to expect this season. She finished the match with 14 kills, two digs and a block. But the surprise contributor was sophomore hitter Maddy Chin.
Chin's role has increasingly grown over the past few weeks, and Shondell had had nothing but praise for her abilities.
"She's just a really consistent and level headed player," he said. "I think she brings a nice positive, loose attitude to the team. Which her teammates like her to see her in because when she does, she exudes calm."
Friday night, she put up six kills and a team-high .417 hitting percentage.
The Boilermakers will play Northwestern at 7:30 p.m. Saturday in Holloway Gymnasium for the second match of the two-game series. The game can be telecast on the Big Ten Network.