The No. 17 Purdue volleyball team lost at home for the first time this season, 3-1, to Illinois on Sunday afternoon.
After trailing the Boilermakers (9-4, 1-3 Big Ten) for most of the first set, the No. 18 Fighting Illini (8-5, 3-1 Big Ten) went on a 10-2 run lead by senior outside hitter Jacqueline Quade, tying the score, 24-24. The Boilermakers held on, however, eventually winning 30-28.
Offensively, two sophomores – outside hitter Grace Cleveland and middle blocker Jael Johnson – kept the Boilermakers on top, finishing the first set with seven kills between them. Set winning point came off of a serve from sophomore setter Hayley Bush, after an attack error from Quade.
After a strong first set, the Boilermakers fell into a lull, losing the next two sets by eight and 11 points respectively.
"I really felt like Illinois showed a lot more maturity and experience in the way they played," head coach Dave Shondell said. "It was one of our weakest passing efforts of the season."
Blake Mohler, consistently one of Purdue's highest point scorers, was out for most of the match. As Cleveland led the team at the net with 13 kills and five blocks, Shondell was not happy with the team's hitting performance either.
"I didn't think anybody really stepped up very well in the absence (of Mohler)," Shondell said. "Our hitting numbers were nothing to get excited about."
Quade, a first-team All-American in 2018, posed a challenge to to the Boilermakers' middle blocking the entire match, fishing with 19 kills off of 60 attacks.
"When she was in the front row, we either had to lean, or we were going over to her trying to shut her down," junior libero Jena Otec said. "She's obviously an All-American and she's a really great player, and if she wants to get kills she's gonna get kills."
The Boilermakers struggled defensively, recording only five team blocks in attempts to stop Illini outside hitters Quade and junior Megan Cooney.
Cooney led the Illini offensively, finishing the match with 20 kills.
The lack of defense became apparent in the second set of the match, as the Boilermakers lost 25-17, letting up 15 kills with not one block to show for it.
"I think they passed really well," Otec said. "They had a lot of options, but they kept setting Quade and Cooney, who did a really good job seeing out block and just hitting around it."
The third set proved painfully similar for the struggling Boiler defense, losing, 25-14.
The Boiler offense failed to capitalize on opportunity throughout most of the match, hitting only .163, and racking up three net violations — each one costing them a point as well as a potential momentum swing.
"They had a good idea of what we were starting to do," Bush said. "We were trying to make things work, and sometimes it's hard when a team has a big block up against you."
It wasn't until the fourth set that the Boilermakers' competitive edge seemed to return. The Boilers began leading 8-7, featuring an offensive surge from junior outside hitter Caitlyn Newton landing three kills over the Illini defense early in the set.
"I think we realized we weren't playing as well as we could be," Bush said on the Boilermakers' late spark. "It was clear we weren't competing, and we just came out with more fire."
The set featured three lead changes and 9 total ties, and two controversial calls against the Boilermakers. Both plays was challenged, and the second was reversed, giving Purdue a point as well as the ball. That call set the score at 23-21.
The set ended with Illinois on top, solidifying their victory over the Boilermakers, three sets to one.
"For us to beat teams like that," Shondell said, "we're gonna have to make some adjustments, and compete at a higher level."
Purdue, now 1-3 in the Big Ten, will play its rival in Indiana University at 7 pm Wednesday in the Hoosiers' newly built arena, Wilkinson Hall.
"Indiana is looking forward to this match with us," Shondell said. "It is gonna be an absolute war down there, and we've just gotta be prepared to play."