(Photo by: WCSN/Courtney Pedroza)
Since October 9, No. 14 Arizona State shifted from a team that started one freshman to a team that now starts three.
For the past few weeks, ASU head coach Jason Watson has been switching players around in an attempt to find the best starting lineup without senior outside hitter Macey Gardner. One of the biggest changes that was made was putting senior Whitney Follette to opposite which left an opening for a new middle.
The job was eventually given to freshman middle blocker Jasmine Koonts, who recently played her best game of the season against Colorado when she notched five kills and no errors with five blocks.
“You look at her and think she’s a little under-sized,” Watson said. “But she is fast, and she can jump, and those are traits we’ve always admired in our middles.”
It wasn’t always this good for Koonts. Earlier this season, she got her first collegiate start against Texas Southern and saw the court against Washington State, but did not record a kill.
However, in back-to-back games, Koonts had a hitting percentage above .474 on about nine and a half swings per game clearing any doubt that she could perform at the required level.
“Looking at film helped a lot,” Koonts said. “The coaches gave me feedback and told me what I needed to do, and I felt like I did a better job responding to what they were saying.”
What made her last two performances even more convincing is that fact that she was coming off a concussion, which she suffered during practice a few weeks ago when she was trying to block Follette and got hit on the head.
Koonts sat out for a little over a week and had to watch senior Andi Lowrance fill in at middle against No. 1 USC and No. 8 UCLA.
When asked if she expected to play that well after the injury she laughingly said, “No, no I didn’t.”
One of the contributers to Koonts’ recent success is how she is paired up with her roommate and fellow freshman, setter Kylie Pickrell.
“We are together all the time, so we have that automatic connection,” Pickrell said. “We communicate back and forth with each other, what she needs and what I need.”
Even though it might seem odd to pair up two freshmen together, while the other middle/setter pairing is two seniors in Bianca Arellano and Mercedes Binns, Watson is confident about his new lineup.
“There’s a degree of enthusiasm and excitement between Kylie and Jasmine,” Watson said. “We like it, we think it’s pretty solid.”
With eight matches remaining, Koonts will have to go up against her toughest challenge this Wednesday against No. 7 Stanford’s 6-foot-8 middle blocker Merete Lutz, and then California on Thursday.
“We understand that the learning curve for her is pretty good,” Watson said. “If she keeps at it she’ll be fine.”
If you want to reach Troy Lynch, you can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter (@mrtroylynch)