(Photo: Trey Lanthier/WCSN)
Few have been able to handle the heat in Tempe this season, particularly those taking on the blazing hot Sun Devils in Wells Fargo Arena.
Through six matches at Wells Fargo Arena this season, the No. 16 Sun Devils have only dropped one, a four-set loss to No. 22 Oregon. Up until then, ASU was undefeated on their home court, each victory coming by way of a straight-sets sweep.
“It’s great to come home and play in this gym,” sophomore outside hitter Macey Gardner said. “We love to have every single one of our fans here.”
The Sun Devils have enjoyed an energetic and sometimes rowdy crowd for each of their matches. On Sept. 27, they were greeted by 2,293 fans against their in-state rival, the Arizona Wildcats. That topped last season’s high for attendance by nearly 500 fans (1,873 against Oregon State).
“Marketing has been doing a really good job trying to get traffic in here and really create a game day experience,” sports information assistant Alissa Parten said. “They want, obviously, to break all the attendance records.”
The best marketing, however, is a quality team, and the Sun Devils are just that. After a 13-3 start, including an upset over defending national champion Texas, the Sun Devils have landed in the national rankings for the first time since 2002: six years before head coach Jason Watson (now in his sixth season) had even arrived on campus.
“It’s taken us five long years, I think, to get to where we are right now,” Watson said. “It’s nice to know that Wells Fargo is becoming this loud and hopefully difficult place in which our opponents come in and play.”
Despite a starting lineup that lacks a single front row player with more than a year’s worth of experience coming into the season, the young Sun Devils have seemed to handle the loud crowds in Wells Fargo Arena well this season.
“We’re a young team and so at first we’re like, ‘It’s so loud in here,’ but honestly, when you’re into the game it’s not that big of a distraction,” Gardner said.
“When they make those big plays, I think that when the crowd reacts, that is such a big confidence boost,” Parten said. “When you have that kind of crowd in any sport, I know that athletes respond really well to a home crowd.”
Average attendance this season is just over 1,300 per game, a dramatic increase over last season’s average of 941. That buzz may be attributed to having several local products on the team.
Senior libero Stephanie Preach, sophomore setter Bianca Arellano, senior defensive specialist Jenny Teslevich, sophomore middle Andi Lowrance, senior outside hitter Bethany Jorgensen, and Gardner all played their prep career in Arizona.
“We’re doing it with athletes that are from Phoenix, so there are ties,” Watson said. “The volleyball community has seen them grow up and so I think there’s just an affinity with those type of athletes.”
The Sun Devils are not a team that only performs well in the comforts of their own gym, however. They are 8-2 away from Tempe, and they appear to play with nearly the same amount of energy on the floor.
“It just means that we’ve got to look into our team more and bring the energy from ourselves and not just draw it in from the crowd,” Gardner said. “I think we’re doing great on that aspect.”
“There’s some taunting and hollering and stuff,” freshman outside hitter McKenzie Willey said. “Even though it’s sometimes negative energy, it’s still energy, so we feed off of it regardless.”
Seven home games remain on the Sun Devil schedule including hosting a match against the No. 1 USC Trojans on October 18th. The athletic department is hoping to break the all-time attendance record for an ASU volleyball match, and a big crowd might be critical in ASU’s hopes to upset another highly-ranked team. They are currently 1-1 against top ten opponents, with the win coming against Texas and the loss coming against then-No. 7 Stanford in Palo Alto.
“I think if we can continue to have some success, continue to outreach in the community, and continue to run our camps, then we can start seeing the lower bowl filled,” Watson. “That would be a nice day. That would be a really nice day, when we can do that consistently.”
You can reach Zac Pacleb on Twitter @ZacPacleb or via email at email@example.com.
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