(Photo: Trey Lanthier/WCSN)
The No. 22 Arizona State volleyball team got back to its winning ways Friday, but it was not easy, as the team barely beat the unranked Washington State Cougars in five sets (25-21, 25-17, 22-25, 22-25, 15-8). The win propels the Sun Devils to a season sweep of the Cougars and vaults ASU to a 7-8 record in the Pac-12 and one step closer to a bid in the NCAA tournament at the conclusion of the regular season.
It seemed as if the Sun Devils were in store for a collapse to a team they should have beat soundly but junior outside hitter Macey Gardner thought otherwise, putting up four of her match-high 29 kills in the fifth set to give ASU the hard-fought victory. The Sun Devils started off the pivotal set on a 7-0 run and they never looked back, finishing it off 15-8.
After dominating the first two sets of the match, the Cougar defense started giving the Sun Devils fits on their way to come all the way back two set wins in their favor.
In the fourth set, the momentum was clearly in WSU’s favor. Gardner seemed to be the only player on the Sun Devil squad that was playing exceptionally well, as she was one of two Sun Devils that had double digit kills up to that point. With hitting percentages as low as .140 for the Cougar side and .179 for the Sun Devil, points were very hard to come by but WSU eventually prevailed and set up a deciding fifth set.
One of the “X” factors in this game was getting Gardner going early and often, and she did not disappoint with seven kills and a strong .312 hitting percentage in the first set alone. She continued her excellence into the third set, with her team’s offense stuck in a rut, she helped keep the Sun Devils competitive with eight kills in the set. It was in vain however, as WSU sophomore outside hitter Emmy Allen stepped up her game on her way to eight kills and a 25-22 set win for her team. This play gave the Cougars some energy that they would carry over into the fourth set.
Dominance on defense was the key throughout the entire match and it started as early as the first set. The Cougars were held to a lackluster .024 hitting percentage and that was in big part to the impressive 21 digs made by the entire Sun Devil squad. They finished with 81 digs. Freshman libero Halle Harker led the team with eight digs at the conclusion of the set and finished with 18.
The second set continued the defensive trend as they held WSU blooming star sophomore outside hitter Kyra Holt to a measly six kills and a -.077 hitting percentage up to this point. She ended up finishing with 9 kills and a .032 hitting percentage. The Cougars just could not overcome the struggles and lack of offensive rhythm from their top kill leaders on their way to a 25-17 set loss.
From playing one of the worst teams in the Pac-12 to playing one of the best, the Sun Devils will travel across the state and play the No. 5 Washington Huskies on Sunday at noon.