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Gold and Black Illustrated Vol28, Digital1

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Page 73 of 74

GOLD AND BLACK ILLUSTRATED VOLUME 28, ISSUE 1 74 of the middle. We're going to have to get better at block- ing everywhere. That has to be a real focal point for us in the preseason practices and all the way through." The Boilermakers might be getting overlooked. The preseason AVCA coaches poll has Purdue ranked 25 in the country, one of eight conference teams to be ranked. Big Ten coaches put the Boilermakers sixth in the con- ference, behind league favorite Penn State, Nebraska, Minnesota, Michigan State and Wisconsin. "We've always had the physicality, always had the athletes, but this year we have the drive more than any- thing," Cuttino said. "We believe in our abilities now. … I really think we know we can do it too. And having done this, we can realize, 'OK, what are we messing up? Why don't we get as far as we can get?' The experi- ence will help us out a lot, and I think we can do it. If we get everyone in the right mindset and getting a good culture, that will help us out to getting there." Purdue's seniors want a good exit. And there might be a bit of pressure to have one. Since 2005, every senior class has advanced to the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament at least once, twice — in 2010 and '13 — Purdue has gone to an Elite Eight. Evans says the Boilermakers have the pieces to do something never before seen in West Lafayette, the im- plication being the Final Four. "This can be the best team we've had," Shondell said. "We can be. But we've had probably five teams that have had this kind of talent, that I came in think- ing, 'If these guys put it together, we can have a really fun year.' But it's hard to know what that means in our league, because there's probably nine or 10 coaches (in the Big Ten who) are probably saying the same thing, 'We can be really, really, really good.' The experience factor should help us, because it really comes down to, in our case, four seniors who it's really their (last) hur- rah, their last shot. "And they haven't done much, quite frankly. When you look at what our history has been. They missed a tournament and went to the second round twice. That's not exceptional for what we've done here in the last decade of volleyball, so I think they realize they've got something still to prove, this is the chance to do it." j Euro Trip, U.S. Success? If the past is an indication, the future should be a good one for the Boilermakers. The two previous times Purdue had a summer Euro- pean trip during the Dave Shondell Era — in May, the Boilermakers had a two-week tour through Slovenia and Italy — it's gone on to have two of its best seasons. In 2008, Purdue was 26-9 overall, 11-6 in the Big Ten, and advanced to the Sweet 16. In 2013, the Boilermak- ers finished 23-12, 11-9 in the league, and made an Elite Eight appearance. If things progress as the past suggests, it leads one to believe the next step is Final Four. Shondell's nowhere near predicting that — Purdue will need to negotiate a tough non-conference schedule and even tougher Big Ten — but he feels good coming off the Euro trip. "Whether there's a direct correlation or not, you'd have to be more scientific than I am to figure that out," the 15th-year coach said. "But we had a great trip and we played really well. Our players have worked a lot of things out between the end of last season and now to where we have a really good chemistry on this team right now. I realize we're (only a few) practices into the season and nobody has beaten us yet, but I like this team and I think our players like each other on this team. I think they look forward to coming in and seeing what they can do this season "But the trip to Europe was productive for us. We played really good competition and we won a lot of those matches, which I think built confidence that this team could be really good. I think this can be a really special team, but we have a lot of things that we have to improve on and connect on before we can be a great team." — Kyle Charters

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