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Friday, December 9, 2011
Purdue suffers early exit from Minneapolis Regional

By Pat Borzi

MINNEAPOLIS -- The Sports Pavilion at the University of Minnesota is more than 80 years old, and the air ducts high above the volleyball court could use a vigorous wipe-down. The joint might be dingy, but it is certainly not haunted, even though Purdue has not won a match here since 1998. Boilermakers coach Dave Shondell isn't of that mind, anyway.

"There aren't any ghosts in here," he said. "Not that I know of."

So fifth-seeded Purdue's four-set loss to Florida State in the NCAA tournament Minneapolis regional semifinals Friday couldn't be attributed to anything supernatural or weird, or even to the Gophers, who lost to Iowa State later. But it was hard to explain and even harder for the Boilermakers to take.

Purdue led 21-13 in the first set before FSU had a 12-2 run to win 25-23. The Boilermakers evened the match in the second set, 25-21, before 12th-seeded Florida State took the next two 25-20 and 25-19 -- the latter when the Seminoles scored the final eight points to overcome a 19-17 deficit.

"You just can't give up runs and points like we did tonight and expect to advance," Shondell said.

Instead, Purdue (29-5) became one of five Big Ten teams to exit the tournament Friday, leaving Illinois as the only one of the conference's eight qualifiers to reach the quarterfinals. Fourth-seeded Iowa State dispatched Minnesota 18-25, 25-23, 25-15, 31-29, setting up a Big 12 versus Atlantic Coast Conference regional final for 9:30 p.m. Saturday.

Florida State (27-6) reached the quarterfinals for the second time in three years; its previous appearance was also here. "I was being recruited when it happened," sophomore middle blocker Ashley Neff said. "To see it, and then to be able to experience it, is one of the best feelings. I can't wait until tomorrow."

The Boilermakers, the Big Ten's hottest team heading into the postseason, expected better than this. Led by Big Ten player of the year Ariel Turner, Purdue had won 14 of 15 matches to post its best record since 1985, its highest Big Ten finish since 1987 (second at 16-4) and its highest national ranking since 1983 (eighth).

And after having beaten Minnesota earlier this year -- albeit in West Lafayette -- to end a six-year losing streak to the Gophers, Purdue felt ready to take on its conference rival in a regional final in front of a packed, hostile crowd, if it came to that.

But the Seminoles, with their roster of seven Americans and seven others from overseas (Turkey, Serbia, Brazil, Latvia and New Zealand), used aggressive serving and terrific defense to baffle and frustrate the Boilermakers. Florida State finished with 104 digs and 15 blocks while limiting Purdue to a .129 hitting percentage, .067 in the final set. Turner needed 76 swings for her 16 kills; five Seminoles had 10 or more kills.

"I think we knew they would be a good defensive team," Florida State coach Chris Poole said. "It was a matter of we needed to be able to match them. We knew we wouldn't completely shut down Turner, but what we wanted to try to do was try to contain her a little bit and work hard enough to try to be successful against some of the others.

"The big thing was, after that first game, we realized we could play with them. When you get to this level, there's always that question: Can you play against that top-five program?"

The first set comeback eliminated that doubt. Purdue was rolling on a 9-1 run and four points short of victory when sophomore Hilliary Fox served into the net. FSU's Rachael Morgan served five straight points to make it 21-19, helped by three Purdue attack errors. FSU trailed 23-20 before scoring the final five points to win, the first on a kill by Visnja Djurdjevic, and two others on Purdue's eighth and ninth attack errors of the set.

The Seminoles took the third set thanks to .424 hitting with just two attack errors. Purdue fought back to lead the fourth set until Florida State, coming out of a timeout, ran the table. Djurdjevic blocked Turner to make it 19-18, and Katie Mosher served the next seven points.

"It was good that we proved everyone wrong and showed we could play at this level," FSU sophomore outside hitter Elise Walch said.

In the second match, a boisterous crowd of 3,237 could not coax an upset from host Minnesota (20-12), the 13th seed. Iowa State (25-5) made its second quarterfinal round in four years and matched a 2007 school record with its sixth victory against a ranked opponent.

"We just talked about, enjoy this for the next hour, see your parents, but get to bed," said Iowa State coach Christy Johnson-Lynch.