The Boilermakers went undefeated at home this weekend, capping it off with a dramatic upset over No. 5 Nebraska.
“This was one we needed for our resumé,” head coach Dave Shondell said. “I’m happy we got it because it could have easily gone the other way.”
After a four-game stint on the road, No. 20 Purdue (14-5, 6-4 Big Ten) carried momentum from a hard-fought win over Ohio State into a sold-out home crowd at Holloway Gymnasium for both games against Iowa and Nebraska.
“We were on the road for a very long time,” redshirt sophomore setter Hayley Bush said. “It took us a set to realize that this is home. We have all the energy here and we just need to apply it.”
After winning the opening set of the weekend to the Hawkeyes (9-12, 3-7), the Boilermakers used their home-court advantage to stride past their opponent in the next three sets.
The Boilers, who lost to Nebraska (16-3, 8-2) in their previous matchup 10 days prior, rode that wave of momentum into what was arguably one of the largest Big Ten upsets of the season. After losing the first set by only 2 points, the Boilermakers elevated their offensive play, landing a total of 59 kills in the match.
The Boilers won the next two sets, lost the fourth and sent the match into a final fifth set. The Boilermakers finally came out on top, winning 15-8.
“It’s a testament to what we can do,” junior outside hitter Caitlyn Newton said. “We left that game (against Nebraska last week) knowing we can do so much more, and so we came out really strong in the first set.”
Newton recorded 17 kills in both games over the weekend, leading both teams in the Nebraska game. Newton was only topped on Friday by sophomore outside hitter Grace Cleveland landing 18 kills against the Hawkeyes. Iowa struggled to slow the explosive Purdue offense with only three blocks all night.
Senior middle blocker Blake Mohler, who struggled in the Iowa match, scored 12 kills against the Huskers and had her second best defensive performance of the season with seven blocks.
“It was really the first time Mohler has been healthy all year,” Shondell said. “Playing the best she’s looked all season, for her to finally start feeling both emotionally and physically good is another good confidence boost.”
Mohler was assisted defensively by senior middle blocker Shavona Cuttino, who set her season best for blocks with nine against Iowa, and recorded another six against the Cornhuskers.
The win against the Cornhuskers may just be chalked up as a fluke upset by some, but the Boilermakers were not surprised by this victory, and are taking this win in stride.
“They don’t have any more experience than we do,” Shondell said. “We feel like we were at least dead even with Nebraska on talent and experience, and at home we had an advantage.”
Winning three straight games, one of them being against the fifth-best team in the country, is enough to give any team a boost of determination going into the back half of the conference season.
“We’ve had a tough schedule early in the Big Ten,” Shondell said. “Now I think it gives us confidence that we can beat anybody in this league.”
Although the team has beaten two other ranked opponents in the past, then-No. 16 Kentucky and No. 22 Louisville, it is still not where it wants to be. Purdue has dropped three spots in the top-25 rankings since the beginning of the season. Serving as a transition into the second half of the Big Ten season, this game could be a turning point in Purdue’s redemption arc.
“We know we have the talent, we know we have the pieces, we just haven’t been able to completely get it together yet,” Mohler said. “I think (the Nebraska game) is gonna give us a lot of confidence going forward.”