The Purdue volleyball team will enter the 2018 NCAA Tournament unseeded, facing Eastern Tennessee State in Lexington, Kentucky.
Purdue enters the tournament for the 13th straight season under head coach Dave Shondell, their 20th straight appearance overall.
Moving into Sunday night’s tournament selection show, the Boilermakers (23-8, 12-8 Big Ten) split their final regular-season weekend. The team defeated Indiana 3-2 in Bloomington, but fell to No. 3-seeded Illinois 3-1 in Champaign.
Fifth-year outside hitter Sherridan Atkinson led the team in both matches, boasting match-high 20 and 26 kills against IU and Illinois, respectively. Atkinson also tallied three aces against IU.
Moving into the weekend, the Boilers were tied at 16th place with Creighton in rating percentage index. Following Purdue’s loss to Illinois and Creighton’s defeat of No. 14-seed Marquette, Creighton was seeded ninth in the tournament.
If Purdue overcomes ETSU (28-6,15-1), the team may play No. 10-seeded Kentucky.
“We know Kentucky pretty well. We played them in a spring match this past year,” Shondell said. “It will be exciting if we get to that.”
“I feel like, if anything, Kentucky should be scared,” Atkinson said.
Kentucky is set to play Murray State in the first round.
Shondell cautioned the team not to underestimate Eastern Tennessee, calling them “scrappy.”
“They’re a small, fast, electric team,” Shondell said. “We went five sets with some teams early in the season. A lot of people would have thought they’d be a walk in the park, and they were not because everybody competes at this level.”
However, Shondell also noted that the team has a history of first-round focus and success.
“Our history indicates that we do come out ready to play in the first round. I think that that will continue,” Shondell said.
Shondell anticipated Purdue would travel to either Kentucky or Marquette if the team wasn’t set to host the first two rounds, based on their relatively close proximity to West Lafayette. Despite the fact that the team is opening the tournament with away matches, Shondell and Atkinson have faith in the Purdue fanbase’s travel-ready spirit.
“Since it still is technically the Midwest and everyone is so willing to travel — I mean, they went two hours to IU, so an extra hour to Kentucky isn’t too bad — we’re pretty excited about the support that we’ll have,” Atkinson said.
“This has been the best group of fans we’ve ever had at Purdue,” Shondell said. “We’ve broken the record for home attendance, we’ve had people go on the road with us, show up out of nowhere, so hopefully we’ll continue to have some of that fanbase go with us down to Lexington.”