Dec. 6, 2008

Courtesy of Purdue

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. - The No. 10-seeded Purdue volleyball team earned its third trip to the Sweet 16 in the last four years Saturday night with a five-set win of Middle Tennessee State. The Boilermakers topped the Blue Raiders 25-18, 24-26, 25-18, 22-25, 15-8 as senior libero Kelli Miller surpassed the 2,000 dig mark for her career, moving to 2,001 with 18 on the night. Purdue also moves to 26-8 on the year, its best mark since the 1985 season (34-4).

The Boilermakers (26-8) will play the winner of the 10 p.m. ET match between Southern California (17-11) and No. 7 seeded Hawaii (29-3) in Fort Collins, Colo., on Friday, Dec. 12 in the Sweet 16.

Sophomore Kristen Arthurs racked up a team-best 15 kills, while seniors Stephanie Lynch and Danita Merlau chipped in 13 and 12 respectively. Junior Carrie Gurnell added eight, while redshirt sophomore Lisa Pierce followed with seven and a team-best three aces.

Defensively, senior Kelli Miller pulled up 18 digs, while Merlau rounded out her double-double with 15 digs. Lynch put up a match-high eight blocks, while Merlau, Arthurs and sophomore Jaclyn Hart each recorded five stuffs.

"That was a tough match, as I thought it would be," head coach Dave Shondell said. "Middle Tennessee State seems to thrive on beating teams they are not supposed to beat. We were very good at times, and at times lost our focus, but we were able to get it back for the fifth game and come out with the victory. I feel very fortunate that our team continues to do so well in five game matches."

In the deciding fifth set, the teams matched each other point for point through a 4-4 score. The Boilermakers then began to pull away, scoring seven of the next eight to go up 11-5. Four MTSU miscues coupled with kills by Pierce, Gurnell and Merlau led Purdue to the advantage. The Blue Raiders cut the margin to four at 12-8, but Purdue punched its ticket to the Sweet 16 with a pair of Lynch putaways and an ace by Pierce to take the set 15-8. Middle Tennessee had five hitting errors and two service errors in the short stanza.

The teams split the first eight points of the match, but Purdue soon owned a five-point lead at 10-5. Four different players contributed kills, while Miller also served up an ace in the early part of the set. Middle Tennessee State made it a one-point game at 12-11, but the Boilermakers posted a 10-4 run, including two kills each from Merlau, Arthurs and Pierce. The Blue Raiders scored two in a row to slow the rally, but Arthurs answered with a kill and a back row block put Purdue up 24-17. Arthurs pounded down her sixth putaway of the set to give the Boilermakers the 25-18 win.

Purdue led early in the second set, owning an 8-6 advantage, but MTSU scored five of the next six to go up 11-9. The Boilermakers countered with five straight including an ace by Pierce and two blocks, to regain the lead at 14-11. The Blue Raiders tied it up at 16 and 17 before working their way back into the lead at 21-19. Purdue played from behind, tying it up at 21 and 22, but Middle Tennessee had a shot at set point at 24-22. A service error and a hitting miscue tied it at 24, but a kill and Purdue hitting error tied the match at a set apiece.

The Boilermakers charged out to a 6-1 lead after returning from the intermission. Arthurs chipped in a few kills and Lynch and Pierce teamed up on a block to push the advantage to seven at 14-7. MTSU countered with six straight, including two aces, to slash the advantage to one at 14-13. Purdue then rattled off nine of the next 11, including three blocks and putaways from five different players, to stretch the lead to eight at 23-15. A service error a few points later put Purdue on the hill at 24-17, then Gurnell closed the door at 25-18. The Boilermakers outhit MTSU .357 to .059 in the stanza and outblocked the Blue Raiders 6-1.

Purdue looked poised to take the match in four, going up by five at 13-8 on an ace by Pierce midway through the fourth set, but Middle Tennessee would not give up the fight. The Blue Raiders served up a pair of aces en route to a 14-14 tie. The Boilermakers went up three at 18-15, but MTSU knotted the score again at 18 and 19 before going on to take a 23-20 advantage on a block by Ashley Asberry and Stacy Oladinni. Lynch supplied a pair of kills in the waning moments of the stanza, but could not prevent the 25-22 Blue Raider win.

The Boilermakers (26-8) will play the winner of the 10 p.m. ET match between Southern California (17-11) and No. 7 seeded Hawaii (29-3) in Fort Collins, Colo., on Friday, Dec. 12.