(Photo: James Powel/WCSN)
Starting the season 6-3 on the road is usually affirmation of a skilled volleyball team. However, lofty expectations for the Arizona State Sun Devils hinder the recognition they deserve based on their record.
ASU hopes to earn that recognition as it wraps up its non-conference schedule this weekend.
The team travels to Idaho to compete in the Boise State Classic on Friday and Saturday. The first day, ASU faces No. 17 Santa Clara (9-0) at 11 a.m. and Portland State (7-2) at 4:00p.m.
Arizona State ended its weekend in California on a high note with a five set victory over host Long Beach State. The Sun Devils ultimately went 2-1 at the tournament.
ASU and its first opponent, No. 17 Santa Clara, kicked off the season in the same fashion: a 14-game road trip.
Santa Clara is off to its best start in program history. The Broncos are undefeated and one of only eight teams in the country with a record of 9-0 or better.
Senior outside hitter Nikki Hess is the main offensive threat to the Sun Devils. Hess was named the Cal Classic Tournament MVP. The Scottsdale native currently leads the Broncos with 108 kills.
The Sun Devils will likely turn to junior middle blocker Oluoma Okaro to lead the team on offense and defense.
The recent transfer from University of San Francisco leads the team in several categories: hitting percentage (.321), kills (101), aces (14) and blocks (37).
Junior libero Halle Harker will also play a significant role in the Sun Devils success against the Broncos.
Harker’s defensive performance in a 3-2 win over Long Beach State boosted the Sun Devil offense and empowered them to rally back from match point. She currently ranks 17th at ASU for career digs with 1,063.
“We’ve been scouting super hard on their best players, so just sticking to the game plan and working to our advantages,” senior outside hitter Maya McClendon said on the game plan against the Broncos. “Making our serves and all the things we’ve been working on; playing really clean and really tight.”
Portland State defeated their first Pac-12 opponent in more than a decade with a 3-2 victory over Colorado.
The Vikings stand at 7-2, the program’s best start since 2008. They are entering the tournament on a five-match winning streak.
Arizona State has history on its side with a 3-1 all-time record against Portland State. The lone loss came at a neutral site in 1981.
The Sun Devils have to find a way to stop senior outside hitter Pati Anae. She is averaging nearly five kills per set, which is 11th in the nation. She is also a threat defensively and is second to only junior setter Kylie Copple in digs, with 90 on the season. She posted her first double-double of the season with kills and digs against the Buffaloes.
Despite the tough lineup, head coach Stevie Mussie holds her team to high standards.
“Always win,” Mussie said. “Our expectations are to win and continue to evolve as a team.”