(Photo: Alli Cline/WCSN)
Arizona State, ranked No. 10 in the country prepare for its toughest challenge yet as they square off with fellow top-10 opponent, No. 6, Illinois in what is the marquee matchup of the Sun Devil Invitational.
This is the first time that ASU has hosted a top-10 team in Wells Fargo Arena while also being in the top-10 since 1985 (No. 6 USC) and the last nonconference top-10 matchup was in 1982 against top-ranked Hawaii.
A team which ASU head coach Jason Watson calls “excellent” has consistently been in the top-10 through the first few weeks of the season.
It’s not the first time that ASU has faced a top-10 opponent, the team faced then-No. 9 ranked Colorado State earlier in the year, pulling out a sweep in dominating fashion.
Illinois has not lost a first set this year, even in its only loss of the season to No. 8 Stanford. However, for just the second time this season, the Fighting Illini lost a set in their early game today UNLV took the third set of that match.
The game pits two of the top offensive teams in the country against each other. Illinois led by Michelle Strizak, Jocelynn Birks, and Katie Stadick average almost 15 kills per set whereas ASU averages just over 13.
Katie Stadick and Jocelynn Birks are coming off of huge games. Stadick had a great day overall finishing with a .542 hitting percentage and 16 kills, while Birks finished with a double double, tallying 15 kills and 10 digs.
What this match will come down to is defense. Illinois showed in their first game of the day that they are vulnerable when the other team plays well defensively. In the set that UNLV won, they recorded 22 digs which meant that Illinois attacks weren’t landing.
ASU is currently second in the nation in blocks per set, and blocks will play a key role in this match. Look for senior Whitney Follette to have a big game blocking in the middle and to also climb up the all-time blocks list for ASU.
On top of that, ASU also averages an identical number of digs to Illinois kills posting a number of 14.8 digs per set. That mark is helped by senior Macey Gardner, who is also closing in on ASU’s all-time career kills record, and sophomore libero Halle Harker, who just reached 100 digs on the season.
The stage is set for two coaches who have a great deal of respect for each other and who also played with each other. ASU head coach Jason Watson and Illinois head coach Kevin Hambly played together at BYU and will now face off against each other once again.
The match is scheduled for 7 p.m and will be the final game of the Sun Devil Invitational. The game will be broadcast live on the Pac-12 Digital Stream.