(Photo: Ava Montoya/WCSN)
In the first match of the Residence Inn Invitational, the No. 8 Colorado State Rams defeated the No. 18 Arizona State Sun Devils in five sets (25-23, 25-20, 18-25, 17-25, 15-5).
“It was a fun match,” ASU head coach Jason Watson said. “Certainly, it’s a unique thing to say given the outcome, but I thought it was a fun match.”
Without junior middle blocker Whitney Follette in the lineup due to abdominal surgery last week, ASU struggled to find an offensive rhythm early against the scrappy and efficient CSU squad.
Filling in for Follette in the first two sets was redshirt freshman Kwyn Johnson. Although she is listed as an outside hitter, she started in the middle blocker position and posted three kills.
“It’s hard to be uncomfortable, and we just asked Kwyn to be uncomfortable against a really, really good team, and I can’t speak enough for her willingness to go do that,” Watson said. “She was really good in a shockingly uncomfortable environment for her.”
CSU built an early 15-10 lead behind a solid performance from Adrianna Culbert as she racked up three kills in the set. As a team, CSU did not commit a single attacking error in the set.
“They were making us play a little bit longer than we wanted to,” junior setter Bianca Arellano said. “They were digging everything.”
The Sun Devils were led by the strong efforts from sophomore outside hitter Kizzy Willey, who notched seven kills on eight attempts without committing a single error. She would finish with just 13 kills, a career-high.
ASU would come as close as 23-24 before Arellano’s service error gave the Rams the first set.
The teams battled back and forth in the second set that saw 10 ties and four lead changes.
However, CSU would go on a late 6-0 run to pull away and seal set number two.
“I don’t think we were playing bad,” Watson said. “I just thought we weren’t playing very clean.”
In the third set, junior Andi Lowrance had her hand at the middle blocker position as ASU tried to muster a comeback effort. ASU played their cleanest set of the match, committing just one attacking error.
“(Lowrance) did a really good job in the moment she was given,” Watson said. “If you get a chance, go be great, and I really thought Andi – in a difficult thing being down 2-0 – had her chance and was great.”
The Sun Devils were paced by two consecutive aces by sophomore defensive specialist Mia Mazon to stretch their lead in the middle of the set.
The fourth set was a back-and-forth affair, with neither team breaking away significantly until a late 5-1 run by ASU forced the match to go to a fifth set. In the third and fourth sets, CSU committed 17 attacking errors after committing just two errors in the first two sets.
“I think we really narrowed in on their tendencies,” Willey said. “We executed our game plan, and during the break, coach had said, ‘Take care of our side,’ and we just cleaned up a lot of stuff on our own side.”
The Rams took control in the fifth set, scoring nine unanswered points to begin the game to 15.
CSU’s victory was their 21st true road win, extending a program record.
“It’s not fun losing, but it’s not the end of the world,” Watson said. “It’s a loss against a really good team, and we learned a ton.”
ASU will look to rebound with a doubleheader tomorrow against North Carolina Central at noon and a 7 p.m. match against Pepperdine before conference play kicks off on Wednesday.
“You don’t want to look forward too far, but you have no choice,” Watson said. “Because on Wednesday, it get’s real. It get’s really real.”
You can reach Zac Pacleb on Twitter @ZacPacleb or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org