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ASU Volleyball: Okaro leads Devils to three sweeps at Sun Devil Classic

(Photo: Nicholas Badders/WCSN)

Getting through a couple minor bumps in the road, the Arizona State Sun Devils swept all three opponents they faced over the weekend at the Sun Devil Classic in Tempe.

For the first time since 2011, the Devils had the opportunity to start the season in front of their home crowd at Wells Fargo Arena. They made the most of it, dispatching Weber State, North Dakota State and Boise State en route to a 3-0 start to the season.

“We knew we were going to have a lot of new players, so we wanted for us to have that chance to open at home,” ASU head coach Sanja Tomasevic said. “If we had to choose to host, the first one was the one I would prefer than any other one, just because we have a lot of new kids and we can get into the groove of doing our things our way.”

Weber State

 The Devils’ 10 new players and revamped coaching staff took the floor for their first official game Friday morning against the Weber State Wildcats.

ASU held a strong position for most of the match. After a pair of attack errors saw them trailing 7-6, the Devils corrected to win the first game 25-18. The Devils would not trail in the second or third set, taking those games 25-18 and 25-19, respectively.

The Devils came in well-prepared for the matchup despite their lack of experience playing together, something senior Halle Harker attributes to looking inward when preparing.

“During pregame preparation, it’s all about us,” Harker said on Saturday after the tournament concluded. “It makes it so much easier. You know what you’re going to do to be able to control the game, and I think that is what kept us focused throughout this process of playing three different teams, not knowing anything about them. We’re just going to focus on Arizona State volleyball and what we know how to do.”

Among the standout players from the first match was freshman outside hitter Griere Hughes. She finished the first match third on the team with 12 kills on .296 attacking. Sophomore Ivana Jeremic and senior Oluoma Okaro had 14 and 13 kills to lead ASU to the win.

North Dakota State

 This match became ASU’s biggest challenge of the weekend. While they still swept the Bison, the Sun Devils has to fight hard throughout the match, especially in the second set.

“Last night’s game was tough for us,” Tomasevic said. “We talked in the locker room. It’s nice to get away with a win after we didn’t play well. We would’ve lost that match if we continued to make mistakes.”

ASU trailed by as much as three in the first set before winning 25-16, ending the set with a six-point run.

The second set was a back-and-forth affair until the Devils finally emerged with a 28-26 victory. Tied at 23, an attack error by Hughes gave the Bison a chance to take the game point. Okaro scored a kill and the Bison committed an error, giving ASU a 25-24 lead.

NDSU senior Erika Gelzinyte extended the set with a kill of her own, tying the game at 25. A botched set by the Bison and an error by Okaro kept the two teams even. The Devils finally broke through for the win after kills by Hughes and Jeremic. They went on to never trail in the third set and win 25-16, securing the sweep.

In preparation for Saturday’s game, the team watched very little of their opponents. Instead, they watched themselves from this game.

“We watched one set of Boise State and that was on the live match,” Tomasevic said. “We watched film on us from last night. That’s what we wanted to focus on. What can we do individually to fix on our side of the net? So, we discussed with them individually, and everybody made that little adjustment.”

For Hughes, that adjustment was not getting caught up in mistakes. After a strong first game, she posted eight kills and nine errors for a -.033 attacking against NDSU.

“I really needed to focus on that today, not bringing the whole team down,” Hughes said.

Boise State

 The individual adjustments made after the NDSU game look to have worked, as the Devils swept the team that, on paper, was their toughest opponent on the weekend.

While ASU never trailed in the first set, they won 25-22. The Broncos went on a streak late, scoring seven of eight points to cut ASU’s lead from seven to one. A block by junior Carmen Unzue stopped the bleeding, and the Devils went on to win via service error.

The Devils went on the never trail in the second set and only briefly in the third, securing 25-19 victories both times.

Hughes rebounded from the previous night with eight kills on .300 attacking but, once again, the feature player was Okaro. She finished with a double-double of 14 kills and 12 digs. After her strong performance in all three outings, she won All-Tournament MVP.

“She hits the ball like a guy on the women’s net,” Tomasevic said. “it’s pretty cool to see that. There are not many girls, not even in the Pac-12, can hit that ball the way that she hits it.”

Tomasevic also mentioned that Okaro did not train much with the team during spring, as she was playing beach volleyball. In what is a potentially scary proposition for future ASU opponents, the coach said it wasn’t “20 percent of what you’re going to see in a couple months” from Okaro.

With three wins now in their pocket, the Devils head on the road for the Gonzaga invitational, with the University of Nevada-Reno, Gonzaga, and Portland State due up Friday and Saturday.

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