MINNEAPOLIS, Minn. – Behind a defensive effort both in the blocking and digging game, 12th-seeded Florida State defeated fifth-seeded Purdue 3-1 (25-23, 21-25, 25-20, 25-19) on Friday at the Sports Pavilion to advance to the national quarterfinals.
Two seasons ago, the Seminoles (27-6) emerged victorious in a five-set win against Kentucky to reach the quarterfinals and put themselves on the national radar. On Friday, with the help of 15 team blocks and a season-high 104 digs, FSU controlled the pace of the matchup against one of the Big Ten’s best programs. The Boilermakers (29-5) carried one of the nation’s better hitters in Ariel Turner, but the Seminoles found a way to contain her as she amassed 16 kills and a .105 hitting percentage.
“I’m proud of the girls,” head coach Chris Poole said. “They’ve worked hard all season. We’ve talked about the motivation we’ve had, we were within one point of knocking out Florida in Gainesville last year [in the second round], and that’s something Purdue did a week later It was after that match where we had the motivation to try to do even better this season. The girls have fought through much adversity the last couple years and even the last few weeks, and they continue to impress me. We did what we needed to do tonight against a very good Purdue team.”
Throughout the match, FSU showed off its athleticism by extending rallies and getting to balls quickly. Redshirt freshman libero Katie Mosher came up with one of the best performances of her short career, racking up 28 digs while Visnja Djurdjevic and Jekaterina Stepanova recorded career highs of 26 and 22 digs, respectively.
A key edge held by the Seminoles was the battle of the middle blockers. Sophomore Ashley Neff registered 11 kills and four blocks, while junior Sareea Freeman nearly had a double-double with 10 kills and a season-high tying nine blocks.
With the win, Florida State has reached its farthest point in school history for the second time in three years and is bidding for the school’s first berth in the national semifinals on Saturday evening.
Florida State’s victory against fifth-seeded and eighth-ranked Purdue ties for the program’s best win against a nationally-ranked opponent since Poole arrived in 2008.
On Friday, the Seminoles held Purdue’s attack to a .129 clip, while FSU recorded a .215 hitting percentage. With both teams tied at 1-1 going into the intermission, FSU answered the challenge in the third set by recording a .424 hitting percentage on 16 kills. The frame featured seven tied scores but one lead change, as a 16-16 score in the set was broken open by kills from Elise Walch and Freeman while Purdue was forced into some difficult attacks.
Walch was a reliable offensive force for the Seminoles on Friday, recording 11 kills and adding two blocks. Stepanova (11) and Djurdjevic (10) also added double-figure kill totals. Sarah Wickstrom recorded 19 assists and two service aces, while Duygu Duzceler contributed with 20 assists.
Late in the third set, FSU took a 22-18 lead on an important kill from Djurdjevic, then got a couple attack errors from Turner before Walch’s big kill ended the set and gave FSU a 2-1 overall advantage.
The fourth set was tight once again, but FSU found momentum late to ride past Purdue. Neff, Stepanova and Djurdjevic each recorded four kills apiece while Mosher and Djurdjevic added 10 digs in the set alone to propel the Seminoles to another big victory.
The turning point in the fourth set came during FSU’s final timeout when it found itself down 19-17 on a kill by Purdue’s Tiffany Fisher. Following the break, FSU reeled off eight consecutive points to end the match, which included three blocks by Freeman. The match ended on a kill from Stepanova.
FSU mounted a large comeback in the opening set, trailing by as much as 21-13 against the Boilermakers. The Seminoles came back with a 6-0 run to cut their deficit to 21-19, then used a 5-0 run to end the set. Tied at 23-23, FSU got an attack error from Purdue’s Kierra Jones, then received a short kill from Stepanova to win the set. The difference came in the blocking game, where FSU garnered five blocks in the set while the Boilermakers were unable to muster any.