(Photo: Christian Coates/WCSN)
On Sunday, two Residence Inn Challenge juggernauts go head to head as the undefeated Arizona State Sun Devils (5-0) face off against the dangerous Iowa Hawkeyes (4-1) in Wells Fargo Arena. The game will be aired on the Pac-12 Networks and will be Arizona State’s second televised match of the season.
ASU comes into this game firing on all cylinders, winning six of their last seven sets en route to a 2-0 record on the weekend up to this point. After dominating a struggling UAB in three-set fashion, the Sun Devils turned around and beat Idaho State in four sets. Junior setter Bianca Arellano and star outside hitter Macey Gardner looked unstoppable last night. Arellano tallied a career-high five service aces in the last match, while Gardner posted 18 kills against ISU, nine of which came in the fourth and final set.
After dropping their opening match against Texas A&M, Iowa has bounced back with four straight wins, including two coming in the Residence Inn Challenge against UAB and Idaho State, both in straight sets. In both games the Hawkeyes started out strong and then rode that momentum to an easy win. Against UAB, the offense and defense seemed to be clicking as they posted a dominant .480 hitting percentage while holding the Blazers to -.038. Against Idaho State, it was more of the same, although ISU did manage to snag a set from them.
Arizona State’s Players To Watch
The player to watch in this match-up is sophomore outside hitter Bree Bailey. Towering at 6-foot-4, Bailey already has an advantage over the competition, using her tall frame to dominate offensively. She stepped up big against Idaho St, notching 11 kills. Another player to look for are both of ASU’s junior middle blockers, Whitney Follette and Mercedes Binns, who have combined for 30 kills over the Sun Devils’ past two games. ASU will need big contributions from each young player to complement Gardner and break through the Hawkeyes’ stingy defense.
Iowa’s Players To Watch
Iowa uses a balanced, relentless attack to wear down opponents led by senior outside hitter Alex Lovell, who has reached into double digit kills in every match of the season so far, most recently with a monster 19-kill performance against Idaho State. To stop Gardner and the ASU offense, the Hawkeyes will have to also rely on the youth and the defense of freshman defensive specialist Michelle Fugarino. She is quickly gaining experience and playing well, as she posted a team-high 11 digs against UAB on Saturday.
What To Watch For
This game will hinge on who gets the faster start. Watch for Gardner to be fed often as the Sun Devils attempt to expose the youth and inexperience of Fugarino early in the first set. The winner of the first set will likely go on to win the match as both teams feed off of momentum.
In the end, the talented and hungry Sun Devils will be too much to handle for the Hawkeyes as Gardner continues to shine, and the Sun Devils prevail in four sets.
Austen Browne is a WCSN volleyball reporter. You can reach him on twitter at @AustenBrowne or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.