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Gold and Black Illustrated, Vol 26, Digital 5

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Page 87 of 92

GOLD AND BLACK ILLUSTRATED OLUME 26, ISSUE 5 88 'You really should be playing outside.' So it made me feel better." The reasons for Cuttino's shift are sound, with the Boilermakers needing a dominant left-side hitter — she'll pair there with Azariah Stahl — to give Purdue a more balanced attack. Purdue had lost half its pro- jected 1-2 earlier in the offseason, when high school All-American Alexa Smith surprised by deciding to transfer to Colorado to be closer to home. "It left a void in a very important position," said Coach Dave Shondell, who still will have veteran Faye Adelaja and versatile underclassman Blake Mohler in the middle. "And we didn't have an easy fix. We don't have an outside hitter coming in in the fall. … If you study volleyball, what you'll find out is that you'll go as far as your outside hitters will take you because they're the ones who, when you're slightly out of sys- tem, get the ball all the time. Research shows that you've got to have some studs on the outside. We've always been really good in the middle — middle and right side — and we've had nice outside hitters, but those haven't been the marquee players for us." It's a bold move. Cuttino's been a great middle blocker, averaging 1.21 blocks per set last season, eighth-best in the Big Ten, while hitting at a .348 clip, seventh-highest in the league. She could be on pace to be an All-American — maybe conference player-of- the-year — before the end of her career. But if she does so now, it'll be at a new position, or at least a hybrid, playing a mix of left-side and middle. "It's a risk," Shondell said. "When you're the head coach, it's a little bit of a risk, because you know you've got a really good (player), an All-Big Ten middle block- er, at 6-foot-3-and-a-half who touches 10-foot-8 who at the end of the year last year was one of the 10 or 12 best players in the league, as a sophomore." But it's a risk worth taking, because Cuttino could be a game-changer on the outside. She's long, athletic and has power, able to blast a spike through potential blockers or simply hit the ball over them. She needs to work on the finesse of the position, like when to tip the ball over the net as sort of a change-up to what's anticipated, but that kind of feel might come with ex- perience. And Cuttino's trying to get as much of that as pos- sible now. It's still a work-in-progress. At the USA try- outs in February, Cuttino was selected — out of more than 230 attendees — to be part of the U.S. Collegiate National Team Program that will play in the Junior Na- tional Championships in June in Indianapolis. That's a great accomplishment, but also a step down from what Cuttino had been accustomed to. In the previous two summers, she'd been selected for the U.S. Junior National Team, a collection of the best of the best, that competed internationally. "Every year I do USA, I usually make the top team as a middle," Cuttino said, "and this year when I tried out (on the outside), I made the team that's going to Indy, which is fine, because I'm still being picked out of a group of like hundreds of girls. "But knowing that, 'Oh, if I was a middle, I probably would have made that top team' or knowing that I'm kind of behind in my skill set, (that's difficult). I did so much to get to where I was as a middle, so to kind of take a step back and start over, it is hard, but I feel like it does help me get better. I don't want to feel satisfied with anything, so if I can handle or try to get the grasp of another position and be more well-rounded, it's a good thing." But Cuttino's not a complete novice. Purdue played the Ben Davis graduate on the left side during the spring season a year ago, but then — unlike now — it was only as a short-term trial. When associate head "Danielle is as good as an athlete as we've had, very physical, and a great competitor." Coach Dave Shondell

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