(Photo: Tyler Rittenhouse/WCSN)
Despite playing solidly overall and getting close to their first conference victory, the Arizona State Sun Devils found themselves coming up short in heartbreaking fashion, losing 3-2 to Oregon State on Saturday night.
The final frame was, like much of the match, a hard-fought battle between two teams fighting for their own reasons. ASU, now 0-16 in Pac-12 play, wanted to make senior night special. The three seniors on the team have been important leaders in a season where wins are few but lessons are plentiful.
“We really battled,” acting head coach Carlos Moreno said. “For the first time, they challenged us and we challenged them back. It was fun to see that. Of course, we want to win, but I’ll take the fight.”
Meanwhile, the Beavers (19-9, 9-7 in Pac-12) have been looking to climb up the ladder in the brutal Pac-12. These two teams entertained Wells Fargo Arena with a closely contested match. The Sun Devils youth and inexperience ultimately decided the match, as it has so many other times this season.
The Sun Devils played a clean first set, as they have before during the. Of ASU’s nine set wins in Pac-12 play coming into Saturday’s game, four came in the first set.
In her final game at Wells Fargo Arena, middle blocker Oluoma Okaro came out swinging. Both she and freshman Griere Hughes had five kills and one error on 11 total attacks after the first set. The duo continued to stay in lockstep for much of the match. In her finalhome game, Okaro led her team with 26 kills and a .351 hitting percentage. Hughes finished with 17 kills.
The two also saved the Devils in a critical spot of the match. ASU led the third set by as many as nine points, but saw their lead evaporate after the Beavers scored seven straight points. From there, the nail-biter third was tied as far in as 24-24. Kill by Hughes and Okaro secured the win and the 2- 1 lead for ASU.
Throughout the game, ASU showed flashes of a more disciplined and experienced team. There are still areas of improvement, as the final result indicates. ASU had 28 errors in the match compared to 21 for the Beavers. However, the Devils also did a lot of things they have not always been able to do.
Chief among the improvements was maintaining composure during rough stretches. Beyond just hanging on in the third set, ASU kept focused throughout the match, only seeming to run out of steam in the final set.
“Learning how to move on from a loss and not letting the younger ones head’s get down,” senior Isabel Miller said of the seniors’ role this season. Those lessons showed on Saturday.
The fourth set, ASU’s last realistic chance at a victory, proved to be a back-and forth affair. Oregon State scored the first three points but the Devils came back to lead 10-6. Oregon State responded with a run of their own, taking a 14-13 lead and forcing ASU to try and regroup.
The set continued to be close as the two teams traded leads. With their first Pac-12 win in sight, ASU proved unable to close out the game in four, losing the set 25-19.
The Devils started out the final set on the wrong foot, and saw themselves with a 10-4 deficit in the season’s final game on the home floor. While ASU battled back to within four points, they would go no further, losing 15-11.
Among the biggest challenges of the game was the blocking. Throughout the season, ASU has struggled to get the ball past the opposing front line. The story was the same tonight, with the Beavers posting 14 blocks on the Devils.
Senior libero Halle Harker, who for four years has guided the Sun Devils vocally and on the defensive end, finished with 29 digs and four assists. She sits at third in the career digs list at 1,947 with four games left to add to her statistical résumé.
While the Sun Devils have little to play for in terms of record, they still have much to play for in terms of pride. For the seniors honored tonight, they know that there is still work to do. Throughout the season, these seniors have been an important part of keeping the program on course.
“There was a big weight on their shoulders naturally, just given the situation that we’re in,” assistant coach Macey Gardner said. “They’ve brought a sense of consistency to the team, I think. This is what we do, this is how we’re supposed to do it. There’s no variation. This is just Sun Devil volleyball.”
ASU wraps up the 2017 season with a road trip, beginning against No.12 Utah on Friday.