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Redbirds fall to Purdue in first round of NCAA tournament

Written by on December 2, 2021

Image is courtesy of goredbirds.com

WEST LAFAYETTE, In. – For the fourth straight year the Redbird volleyball team was eliminated in the first round of the NCAA tournament. This time it was to the hands of the No. 6 ranked Purdue Boilermakers.

“Purdue is effectively a semi-pro team playing in the college game.” Head coach Leah Johnson said. “They have fifth- and six-year players, they’re really good. There is a reason they’re the six-seed. I have a second-year team by average age, and we were fearless. I’m excited to get back in the gym already.”

Off the first serve it was immediately known that this would be a back and forth in the first set. Good defense helped set the Redbirds within one, 9-8. The Boilermakers would answer, jumping out to 15-12 lead, forcing a timeout.

Out of the timeout the Redbirds continued to crawl closer as Tamara Otene’s kill brought them back within one, 18-17. Sarah Kushner wasted no time, stepping up in the big moment recording a big kill to tie the game at 19.

“We had the advantage to try and focus on people we thought we had to and hope that we can manage the other ones.” Purdue head coach Dave Shondell said. “There was some rotations where she [Otene] got the bulk our attention and even that we didn’t do well early with her.”

Purdue continued to fight back, taking control of the game late, 23-20, forcing a timeout from ISU head coach Leah Johnson. The Boilermakers would take the first set 25-21.

“I was impressed with their team, I was impressed when I watched them all week on tape.” Shondell said. “I feel very fortunate to advance. We had to play really well to do it.”

It was more of the same to start the second set as the Redbirds and Boilermakers traded blows early, with a tie set at 5-5. A 5-0 Boilermaker run gave them a 9-5 advantage, forcing Johnson to take a timeout.

Both teams would trade runs as the Boilermakers answered the Redbirds midway through the second set to take a 18-12 lead. The Boilermakers would prove why they are the sixth seed team in the tournament as they would handle the Redbirds in set two 25-17.

“Purdue is good, that’s no secret- but the Redbirds’ are too. The score doesn’t reflect how many swings they had to take, they just ended up winning consecutive long rallies, that’s what separated them.” Johnson said. “I hope that continues in the rest of the tournament- because if you’re going to beat us, you better go win the whole thing.”

The Redbirds got the quick lead but an immediate five-point scoring run gave the Boilermakers a 5-2 lead early in set three. The pressure continued from the Boilermakers, forcing another timeout from coach Johnson.

The Redbirds had no answer as Purdue had them all over the court, taking a 15-7 advantage halfway through the third set.

The Boilermakers shut down the Redbirds the rest of the way, defeating them 25-11, and completing the sweep.

“I thought our team was prepared, gutsy and competitive. We played better than them at some points.” Johnson said. “I am very proud of our serve and pass game, and I know that is something that will get us back here year after year with such a young team. I’m proud of our Redbirds”

Leading the way for the Redbirds was Aliyah Moore with 9 kills followed by Otene who had eight, tying the all time kill record for a sophomore at ISU with 494 kills on the season.

“They were expecting us to lose, and that fired me up…this has been amazing.” Moore said. “I used to watch the NCAAs on TV, and now I’m playing in it. I used to watch some of those Purdue girls, and now I’m blocking them. The competitive fire in me came out.”

Purdue will move on to the second round of the NCAA tournament where they will take on Dayton tomorrow. For the Redbirds their season ends but head into next season with only three players graduating.