(Photo: Alli Cline/WCSN)
No. 10 Arizona State faces off against No. 6 Illinois. Both teams are off to hot starts to their seasons, ASU rising to 9-0, its best start since 1985, and Illinois at 8-1. It seems as if all of the players on either team are clicking and firing at a high rate this season. Although, behind a great team there is always a great coach.
The Illinois head coach is Kevin Hambly. He has been coaching in Illinois for seven years now and has established a culture of success. During his first six seasons as coach, Hambly has taken the team to five Sweet 16s, and in 2011, the team went all the way to the national championship match. His record over the first six years is an incredible 140-59.
On the other side of the net, is ASU head coach Jason Watson. Watson is in his eighth year of coaching at ASU, and he has taken the Sun Devils to three consecutive NCAA tournaments since 2012. Watson is coaching his best team yet here at ASU, and the season looks promising.
However, what most people may not know is that these two coaches are connected in a special way. Kevin Hambly and Jason Watson were teammates together, and good friends, when they both played volleyball at BYU.
“I loved playing with Kevin,” Watson said, “It’s no surprise that he’s this phenomenal volleyball coach too because he just loved the sport. We had a really good time playing together.”
The two played together during Watson’s senior year at BYU while Hambly was a junior. Watson also added that the two of them often roomed together on trips. Both coaches of top-tier programs now, and they have an immense amount of respect for one another. Both are coaching great teams, and both are getting the recognition that they deserve.
“He was always kind of a coach,” Hambly said, “he was always that way.”
During Watson’s senior year, BYU went 21-6 on the season, but the team did not make the tournament. Watson was the team’s setter and Hambly was one of the middles, and that helped to build their relationship.
“He was great both ways,” Hambly said, “All of us that loved to practice and loved to train. We all had a common purpose. We wanted to make BYU great.”
Watson was a setter at BYU and a good one at that. During his senior season in 1994, Watson broke his own school record when he posted 1,257 assists. Over the course of 70 games, Watson averaged 18 assists a game. His leading hitter? Kevin Hambly.
Although Hambly was a year younger Watson, he was always a great player. During his junior year, Hambly had a total of 443 kills and averaged 5.09 kills per game. In his senior season, Hambly led BYU in blocks with 181, which set a BYU single-season record. Over the course of his career with Hambly had a total of 533 blocks, a BYU career record at the time.
The two friends are now going head-to-head tonight in the Sun Devil Invitational. This isn’t the first time these two coaches have met up with these respective teams. Two years ago, Hambly received his 100th career win against his former teammate in a match that took five sets. That match involved a little controversy, however, when Illinois won the game on a ball that was called in, when in reality (and replay tapes) the ball was seemingly out. That game ball now sits in Hambly’s office.
ASU and Watson would like to pay Illinois back for that stinging loss that came two years ago. Now off to a great start to the season it seems as if the Sun Devils just might be able to do it. Players like senior setter Bianca Arellano, and senior outside hitter Macey Gardner have had time to develop over those years and now look better than ever on the court.
“We owe them (Illinois). We owe them big time,” senior middle blocker Mercedes Binns said.
“That controversial call is stuck in our heads. We still think that ball was out. We say we owe them,” Arellano said.
Watson doesn’t want to let that match from two years ago affect the experience of playing his old friend.
“It’s just fun,” Watson said, “It’s two good teams that are going to go play each other. The coaches have history. I have a tremendous amount of respect (for him).”
Watson wasn’t all serious though. Even after two years, a match lost on a missed call can stick with you after all the matches in between.
“Everyday, he has to walk into his office and see that ball that was hit out. I think that’s justice right there,” Watson said.
Whatever the outcome of the game, it is sure to be a good match between two top-10 teams that are both out to hot starts on the season. It is a match up that every sports fan should want to see. The two teams meet up for the final match of the Sun Devil Invitational tonight at 7 p.m. in Wells Fargo Arena.