WEST LAFAYETTE - Purdue's volleyball program had to wait until the end, but the Boilers were able to exhale when they showed up in the NCAA tournament bracket.
When the final quarter pairings were announced on ESPNU Sunday night, Purdue learned it will be traveling to Louisville and facing Tennessee in the opening round. The winner will play either top-seed in the bracket Louisville or Samford for a Sweet 16 berth.
Purdue defeated Tennessee in four sets on Aug. 27 to win the Tennessee Classic. The Boilermakers were swept by Louisville on Sept. 9.
"We were all a little bit anxious to see, but that is something that comes naturally with this process every single year," senior outside hitter Maddy Chinn said. "We’re really excited where we are.
"We are so much of a better team than we were when we played those teams."
The Boilermakers are making their 17th NCAA tournament appearance in the past 19 seasons and eighth in a row.
Head coach Dave Shondell is 16-0 in NCAA tournament first-round matches.
Shondell's teams are 29-16 in NCAA tournament matches and have advanced to the Elite Eight in each of the last two years. Credit the Big Ten Conference, which Shondell alludes to as much like preparing for postseason play.
"We played 20 matches of Big Ten volleyball," he said. "Every week you play in the Big Ten is kind of like what we get ready to do now."
This year's bracket, however, features a new format.
For the first time, the NCAA seeded the top-32 teams. Previously the top 16 were seeded and hosted the opening two rounds.
The Boilermakers (20-10) finished sixth in the Big Ten, going 11-9 in the league after seeing a brutal schedule to close the regular season.
Purdue won two of its final six matches, defeating Maryland on the road last Wednesday and also beating Michigan at home during that span. Purdue lost to then-No. 6 Ohio State and then-No. 6 Nebraska, as well as Penn State, which was ranked 16th and 11th, twice, including Friday's regular-season finale in a five-set thriller.
Tennessee capped its schedule winning seven of its final nine Southeastern Conference matches to finish 17-13.
"Although it’s been a few losses on our belt, it gives you the best experience," senior libero Maddie Schermerhorn said of Purdue's late-season schedule. "We’ve been so close to each one of those teams. It puts us in those pressure situations. We go against those big dominant hitters, whether it is fast tempo, just different game plans. We keep learning more each team we go to. Even though we lost at Penn State, there were so many areas of emphasis that we had that we succeeded in. It will be huge carrying that into Friday."
Sam King covers sports for the Journal & Courier. Email him at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter and Instagram @samueltking.
This article originally appeared on Lafayette Journal & Courier: Purdue volleyball goes to Louisville, faces Tennessee in NCAA tourney