Starting the 2019 season with a 2-1 record, the volleyball team looks to improve upon last year’s performance, starting with the LUV Invitational on Sept. 13 in Nashville, Tennessee.
“We’ve raised our expectations this year,” said senior Blake Mohler, who recorded 11 kills and ten blocks on Friday’s loss to Notre Dame. “We’ve decided who we’re gonna be this season.”
While on the losing end of the match, the Boilermakers featured some impressive performances from the likes of junior and third team All-American Caitlyn Newton, sophomore Grace Cleveland and freshman Emma Ellis.
“We have work to do,” head coach Dave Shondell said. “Notre Dame played a pretty good match against us, (but) we’re not gonna let it shatter our dreams just because we lost a match on the road.”
Now heading into their first tournament of the year, the Boilermakers prepare for Louisville, a team that Shondell has lost to only once in his 17 years at the helm. Shondell is not letting that statistic get inside the team’s heads, however, conceding that Purdue and Louisville, “look pretty even.”
“We just have to focus on one match and be able to have a quick turnaround,” Mohler said about tournament play. “We just wanna take it one match at a time.”
While the Boilermakers find a groove in the 2019 season, some starting positions on the team are still up for grabs. One spot in particular, left outside hitter, is currently being vied for by three athletes: Maddy Chinn, Emma Ellis and Madeline Koch.
“It’s really cool to see how they each push each other but also help each other ... get better each and every day,” Mohler said. “It’s a very healthy competition that we have going on.”
Shondell expressed satisfaction in all three athletes’ performances, but emphasized Koch as being “lights out,” saying she has “tremendous potential.” An official decision, however, has not been reached.
“Somebody has to start,” he said. “If they play well, we’ll probably stick with them. If not, we’ll move it around a bit.”
Along with the competition for left outside hitter comes that for libero, a position still floating between sophomore Marissa Hornung and junior Jena Otec.
“Otec looks pretty good back there right now,” Shondell said.
Once again, the decision is far from final.
“Hornung is such a capable player that in any point in time we needed to go the other direction, we could,” Shondell said.
Only time will tell how the Boilermakers eventually settle into their roles.
Right outside hitter Newton is looking to go above and beyond this year.
“She’s a gifted athlete,” Shondell said. “She’s taken her game to a new level.”
Now an upperclassman, Newton is expected to take on more of a leadership role, one that Shondell believes fits her very well.
“(Newton) takes her role very seriously,” Shondell said. “She’s just gotta find a way to go out and believe in herself and her team.”
Her team certainly believes in her, especially after a career-high 21 kills against Notre Dame.
As roles are filled and players like Newton and Mohler continue to dominate, the Boilermakers are hopeful for their 10th consecutive winning season, and when the time comes, a deep playoff run.