Purdue will be facing 8th-seeded Minnesota in one match while top-seeded Penn State faces 16th-seed Kentucky in the other; the Wildcats held off Ohio State to prevent an all-Big Ten regional. (Unlike men's basketball, there's no effort to keep conference teams from meeting prior to regional finals.) The Boilers and Gophers met just once this season – women's volleyball plays 20 conference matches, with each team playing nine schools twice and two schools once – with Minnesota prevailing in Minneapolis in four sets. Penn State beat Purdue in both meetings, a sweep at Penn State and a four-set win in
|Turner demonstrating moment of force|
|Drews turning a ball into a laser,|
|with her off hand, no less|
Those unfamiliar with volleyball or the team will nonetheless recognize characteristics of this team: solid road performances (wins over tournament teams Michigan, Michigan State, and Ohio State, plus the second-round win over Florida State), close matches against solid teams (the two four-set losses mentioned above), and puzzling losses (to conference bottom-dwellers Indiana and Iowa).
The latter loss was particularly odd: the Hawkeyes were just 2-18 in Big Ten play, but one of those wins was a 3-0 sweep of Purdue on October 6. Cramer went down in the middle of the previous day's match against Nebraska (who's advanced to the regionals as well; they'll be playing in Omaha) and was unable to play against Iowa. From the way the Boilers played, you'd have thought they were the last-place team ... as important as Turner is to the team, Cramer is equally important, and it was pretty clear that Saturday. Much as the men's basketball team looked after Hummel's first injury, the volleyball team looked without Cramer: poor play, lack of communication, general listlessness.
Hopefully the Boilers will avoid a similar fate this coming weekend. Their best chance at a Final Four appearance ended two years ago in a similar fashion: after the 16th-seeded Boilers swept top seed Florida, in the first set of their match against 9th-seed and host Texas, senior setter Jaclyn Hart went down with an injury and did not return. Purdue won the set, but did not win another, and lost 3 sets to 1 in their only Elite Eight appearance.
Either way, Shondell has the team primed for another run next year. The only other senior is defensive specialist Courtney Gosewisch; with fourteen returning players, Purdue should be ready to contend again in 2013. The Big Ten may be the toughest conference in volleyball – five of the last six titles were won by Penn State and Nebraska, and Illinois was last year's runner-up; seven Big Ten teams made the tournament, six made the regionals, knocking off seeded hosts Louisville, UCLA, and Florida State in the process – but the Boilers should be able to hold their own again. In the meantime, check out this year's squad Friday and Saturday in Mackey Arena (not nearly as loud as Holloway for volleyball, unfortunately). Upper-level all-session tickets are just $12 ... a definite bonus to following a non-revenue sport is that it's much, much cheaper than men's basketball or football.
|More attractive than Brad (no|
|relation), to most of us, anyway|