(Photo: Hannah Franklin/WCSN)
The past weekend for No. 10 Arizona State was its worst series of events for the Sun Devils this season. Its 15-game winning streak was snapped, and ASU wasn’t able to even win a single set over the two matches in Washington.
However, the two losses are not the worst part. During the match against No. 4 Washington, senior outside hitter Macey Gardner left the second set with a knee injury and was held out for the rest of the weekend.
On Monday, the program’s worst nightmare came to life as they heard that their record-breaking All-American will miss the rest of the season due to a torn ACL, meniscus and a strained MCL.
“When it happened, I knew that it wasn’t good,” Gardner said. “I was hoping that it was a major hyperextension or something cause I could walk on it thinking to myself, ‘This isn’t too bad.’ But it is what it is, and I feel like it was meant to be.”
The last four years, Gardner was the backbone of the program and never sustained a serious injury. Breaking almost every hitting record, Gardner led the Sun Devils to their second-best start in school history, and her teammates’ emotions ran high after hearing the news that Gardner will have to watch from the bench for the remainder of the year.
“Everyone’s initial reaction was disappointment for Macey,” junior outside hitter Cassidy Pickrell said. “She is an amazing teammate and an amazing player. And for something like this to happen to her, she just doesn’t deserve it.”
Gardner is arguably the best hitter to ever play at ASU and may be the best player that head coach Jason Watson has ever coached. Over the past few years, the relationship between the two has grown, and with their special connection, they have been able to build ASU into a prominent volleyball program. Watson got to see his all-star break the program’s kills record and stated after the fact that he couldn’t help being a “fan” of Gardner’s, making this loss even more difficult.
“It’s tough, I’m not going to lie to you,” Watson said. “It was an emotional weekend for our staff and for me. That kid means an enormous amount, not just as an athlete. You don’t like seeing wonderful people in pain.”
With all of Gardner’s kills, there has to be an assist, and senior setter Bianca Arellano has been there to set Gardner from the beginning. The two players date back to high school when they were on the same club team. Playing together for so many years and having to see her long-time teammate and close friend go down made it that much harder for Arellano knowing that they will never play together again.
“We’ve built so much together, we have so much history and we are starting this awesome season together with all of the other seniors,” Arellano said. “Then this has to happen to the most respectful, humble and aggressive player, and it was just very emotional.”
The Sun Devils are losing much more than just an outside hitter with 205 kills in 16 games. They are losing a leader, a strong voice and their go-to hitter when things would get tough.
“We realized that Macey was a huge part of our program,” freshman outside hitter Lexi Maclean said. “But we realized even more when she was out how big of an impact she made. Mentally and physically, she was our rock, and we all leaned on her.”
Gardner was on pace to become the first player in ASU history to surpass 2,000 kills. She won’t be able to accomplish that feat, but even losing the rest of her career hasn’t dampened Gardner’s spirit.
“The record is just a number,” Gardner said. “I would take every single one of those kills away if I could play tomorrow.”
With Gardner’s calm demeanor, positive attitude and aggressive play on the court, Gardner has been a mentor to the people around her, to her teammates and to her coaches. With 14 games remaining in the regular season for ASU, Gardner says she is trying to figure out any way she can help the team, whether that be taking stats or just encouraging her teammates. Nonetheless, the Sun Devils understand that there is plenty of volleyball left to be played, and they can’t wallow in the loss of their rock.
“There was going to come a day when Macey was going to be done,” Watson said. “She can’t stay forever. There was going to be a moment where she was going to graduate, and she wouldn’t be in the gym anymore. That was going to be a sad day. We just never thought it would happen in October.”
If you want to contact Troy Lynch, you can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on twitter: @mrtroylynch.