(Photo: Kaley Kurowski/WCSN)
When senior outside hitter Macey Gardner went down with a season ending knee injury against Washington on October 9, questions circulated around where production form the left side would come from. The two who are tasked with being the answer to that challenge for No. 14 Arizona State are freshman Lexi MacLean and junior Cassidy Pickrell.
Anyone who followed Gardner was going to have a spotlight on them because of how much of a dominant force Gardner was for ASU. For these two players, it is more about the success of the team rather than individual performances.
“We have all had to step up a little bit more,” Pickrell said. “We are all just playing the same game. We are just picking it up, I don’t think that anybody’s role has changed.”
Naturally, production from the left side has decreased significantly. Gardner was averaging 3.73 kills per set, and now, the MacLean and Pickrell are averaging a combined 3.64 kills per set. The learning curve is especially steep for MacLean as this is her first season passing in serve receive. When ASU head coach Jason Watson brought her to ASU, she had played opposite and middle blocker in high school.
“It has been hard adjusting,” MacLean said. “Everything is different in a sense, like blocking. In the middle, you try to get everywhere and try to block the ball. Your mind set is different as an outside.”
The lack of production has not hurt the Sun Devils too much as the team has found solace in a more opposite-heavy offense. Senior middle blocker Whitney Follette, who made the switch to right side, and junior opposite BreElle Bailey have taken on the bulk of the Sun Devil offense. In the five matches since Gardner went down, Bailey and Follette have 263 attempts combined, compared to 227 attempts by Pickrell and MacLean.
Pickrell is used to taking plenty of swings from her days at UC Irvine. Often times, she found herself in the same position that Gardner took on for the Sun Devils.
“At UC Irvine, I got a pretty heavy load,” Pickrell said. “Here, the setters do a fantastic job of spreading the offense.”
For MacLean to be successful, she has to focus on curbing the amount of errors she has been making. MacLean has a total of 28 kills this season; however, that number is hindered by 25 attacking errors, good for a .028 hitting percentage.
“Hitting has been a struggle for me,” MacLean said. “I just get really nervous and don’t want to be the one to make the error. I need to be more confident in myself.”
This is not the only aspect that can be improved upon by these talented outsides, but with a veteran like Gardner on the bench one-on-one advice is not that hard to find.
Gardner is transitioning from being an on-court leader to an off-court leader and trying to help her teammates adjust to their newer roles.
“It’s nice having her (Gardner) around,” Watson said. “There’s an enormous amount of experience there. I think it has been invaluable to have her there.”
Neither outside feels like they are where they want to be as far as level of play, and at practice, the Sun Devils are trying to work on getting the two back into the rhythm of the offense and the flow of the game.
“We don’t have them (Pickrell and MacLean) in the right tempo offensively,” Watson said. “We have been a little conservative of late. We have been throwing the ball up there. If we can get them up to the right tempo where they are comfortable, then they will start producing.”
Up next for the Sun Devil outsides is a difficult challenge in the No. 7 Stanford Cardinal this Wednesday in Palo Alto.
If you have any questions or comments, you can reach Jacob Franklin via twitter @Jacob_Franklin4 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.