It came down to the wire with every set, but the Purdue volleyball team came up on top in a memorable night for its senior players.
The Boilers (22-7, 11-7 Big Ten) took home a hard-fought 3-2 victory against the Iowa Hawkeyes (14-15, 6-12) late Saturday night. Prior to the match against Iowa, Purdue fell to No. 6 Nebraska on Friday, where the Boilers’ errors contributed heavily to their 3-1 loss.
On the offensive front, fifth-year senior hitter Sherridan Atkinson put down 19 kills with a .340 attacking percentage, junior middle blocker Blake Mohler put down 17 kills, and freshman blocker Grace Cleveland also contributed with 14 kills.
Defensively, freshman Marissa Hornung started as libero for the fourth time this season and dug up 26 balls. She was also supported by sophomore defensive specialist Jena Otec and senior defensive specialist Brooke Peters with 19 and seven digs respectively.
Atkinson described how the team had to collectively come together and change their attitude in order to take the final set.
“My mindset was, ‘This is one set – 15 points.’ Let’s be the first to 5, to 8, to 15,” said Atkinson. “I think that we did really well in bringing things back together and finishing off that set.”
One of the most challenging tasks of the game was containing Iowa’s Taylor Louis, who’s leading the country in career kills. Purdue head coach Dave Shondell commented that overall, the team wasn’t successful in slowing down Louis and Iowa’s other big outside hitters. But even with putting up higher statistics than the Hawkeyes, Shondell noted that the scoreboard didn’t reflect their performance.
Shondell also praised Hornung’s growth as starting libero and how she makes the team better, but mentioned that he wants her to improve her communication going forward.
Given that this win was the final home match for graduating seniors, Shondell recognized the contributions they have made to the team throughout the season. He praised Atkinson’s career as a top-performing college athlete, and spoke highly of Peters and middle blocker Erin Williams in their personal growth.
“Peters has evolved. ... She’s just become a terrific ball control player, a good teammate,” Shondell said. “I’ve never coached a better person than Williams.”
Shondell also spoke about the leadership and approach to team values the seniors promoted, saying, “collectively ... they create a culture that has allowed everyone in this team to be comfortable and develop to the best in their abilities.”
The biggest takeaways from Purdue’s matches this weekend were controlling the ball on its side of the net and needing to improve on its own errors on the court. With only two road games left in the season, Purdue still has some work to do if it wants to finish the season on a high note.
Atkinson explained the team’s approach for the final challenges ahead, where the main focus is on limiting both of its opponents’ opportunities to make big plays as well as refining its pass play and reducing errors.
“A lot of the games that we’ve lost have been due to our errors, and letting the other team get the advantage,” Atkinson said. “So really it’s just controlling our side and exposing their weaknesses.”
Both Shondell and Atkinson emphasized the importance of improving the team’s overall mentality on the court and not letting its guard down, especially since the Boilers will be facing an Indiana team seeking revenge and No. 4-ranked Illinois.
But the win against Iowa will help pave the way to finishing the season on a high note with postseason opportunities ahead.
“Getting this win was huge for this team, and now we go to Indiana with a little more confidence,” Shondell said.
As Purdue’s season comes to a close, the team will be on the road for its final two matches against rival Indiana and Illinois on Wednesday and Saturday respectively.