3/31/21 Minnesota, Jena Otec

Senior libero Jena Otec bumps the ball to a teammate during Purdue’s series against Minnesota. Otec finished the series with 52 digs.

In anticipation of the NCAA tournament next weekend, Purdue volleyball is ready to take on Illinois in its last regular season series and home closer.

After their successful series sweep against then-No. 9 Ohio State (15-3) last weekend, the Boilermakers (13-5) soared two spots to No. 8 in the American Volleyball Coaches Association’s poll and swept the Big Ten weekly awards for the first time in program history.

Head coach Dave Shondell is both excited and proud of how the team has improved this season.

“One of the things that I enjoy most about this team is their ability to make adjustments on their own, and follow a game plan that is suggested to them to a T,” Shondell said. “The chemistry on this team has been tremendous, people making sacrifices for the good of the cause.”

Shondell and his coaching staff have seen this enthusiasm for the game from both the young and old players alike. Senior libero Jena Otec, junior setter Hayley Bush, junior outside hitter Grace Cleveland and freshman middle blocker Taylor Trammell all stepped up to lead the team against the Buckeyes, and they are ready and prepared for the upcoming matches.

Shondell called the Fighting Illini (6-10) “one of the most undervalued teams in America.” All of Illinois’ wins have come against unranked teams, and it has played five of the top 11 teams in the country this season. But the team has taken those top-11 teams to extra sets in seven of its 10 losses, and forced a fifth set in three matches.

“They’re big, they’re talented, they’ve got great arms and we know that they’re very well coached by Chris Thomas and his crew,” Shondell said. “We have nothing but respect for them and our job will be to get our team prepared for them to play this weekend.”

While preparing for matches this weekend and the upcoming NCAA tournament, Shondell lists blocking and serving as their main areas of concern. Throughout the season, the team has seen major improvements, both in their blocking percentages and the strategy behind their serves.

The Boilermakers have logged double-digit blocks in 12 of their last 13 matches, after only making 10+ blocks in two of their first six. They’ve also logged 48 aces in that time period compared to 35 in the first six. 13 of those 35 came in a single match against then-No. 6 Minnesota.

Above all, in anticipation of their trip to the NCAA tournament in Omaha, Nebraska, Shondell is most concerned about the well-being of his athletes.

“We’ve gotten through most of this season in really good shape, that doesn’t mean the pandemic and other outside factors haven’t had an impact so we’re trying to keep our ears open and our eyes open,” Shondell said. “We want to watch our players and make sure that they’re doing well.”

The Selection Show for the NCAA tournament will air on ESPN at 4 p.m. Sunday.

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