The Purdue volleyball team fought through five intense sets to defeat rival Indiana University and claim the Monon Spike for the 11th straight season Saturday night.
The match held high stakes for the team. The Boilermakers (21-4, 10-4 Big Ten) were riding a six-game winning streak moving into Saturday’s match, and they were facing the school’s longtime rival.
The Hoosiers (15-10, 6-8) didn’t make it easy for the Boilers, as they narrowly claimed two sets and kept consistent pressure on Purdue’s players — down to the last point.
“Going into this we knew that they were good, but when we started playing them, we were like, ‘Oh my gosh, they’re actually really good this year,’” said senior libero Brooke Peters. “They played super-hard. We just had to play harder than them the whole game, if we wanted to win.”
The team definitely played hard. Redshirt senior outside hitter Sherridan Atkinson led the team with 23 kills and two aces, and junior middle blocker Blake Mohler racked up 14 kills and seven block assists.
Head coach Dave Shondell concurred with Peters’ sentiment. He also cited the team’s increased playmaking ability as a factor in their success. He pointed to the match point in the game as a play the team doesn’t often make. The play involved Peters coming up to the net to take the second touch, after redshirt freshman setter Hayley Bush’s first dig, and pass the ball to Atkinson for the game-winning spike.
Peters noted the team’s conscious pressure on IU’s star freshman outside hitter Breana Edwards.
“She was definitely one of their go-to hitters, and as you could see, she could hit the ball really hard and really well for a freshman,” Peters said. “We really focused on her this game, making sure that we shut her down.”
Atkinson expects the team’s experience with IU to manifest itself in its season-end matches and into the postseason, but she doesn’t want the team to become complacent with its recent success.
The match was especially important for Atkinson, who played under IU’s head and assistant coaches as a club player in high school.
“I mean, I started playing my freshman year and they were my coaches, so it was pretty fun,” Atkinson said. “Not just showing off, but them seeing the fruits of their labor. They had a big impact in how I developed as a player.”
At the match, Atkinson was recognized for reaching her 1,000th-career-kill milestone against Penn State. Shondell praised Atkinson, calling her “one of the 12 best offensive players in the country.”
“She’s a perfect example of why you coach,” Shondell said. “You feel like you and your staff and your program can really make a significant difference with somebody.”
Shondell also commended the level-headed spirit Atkinson brings to the team.
“She’s a really relaxed kid,” Shondell said. “She doesn’t let a lot of stuff bother her. She has a happy-go-lucky kind of mentality, and that works with this group.”
This mentality will be valuable as the Boilermakers head on the road this weekend to face No. 4-ranked Minnesota and No. 6-ranked Wisconsin. This will mark Purdue’s first encounter with Minnesota this season, and its road rematch with Wisconsin. Purdue lost its match to Wisconsin in straight sets back in September.