(Photo: Zac Pacleb/WCSN)
The 2016-2017 season got started today for the Arizona State volleyball team, as it was in New Mexico for its first tournament of the year. The Sun Devils were slated to play two games today against the Fairfield University Stags and the New Mexico Lobos, and ultimately split both by final scores of 25-19, 25-15, 29-27 and 23-25, 25-20, 27-29 and 20-25.
The season opener for the Sun Devils got off to a sluggish start. Despite jumping out to an early lead, they still gave away points. Half of the Stags first eight points came via attacking errors from ASU.
The Sun Devils found themselves down 8-5 before rattling off three straight points of their own, tying the set at eight.
Senior Maya McClendon started off with three errors on her first four swings, but bounced back in the set and finished with three of the last five points for ASU. The Sun Devils closed out the first set 25-19.
In the second set, ASU began to flex its muscles. Four quick kills and a block from sophomore Kylie Pickrell and Oluoma Okaro gave ASU an early 5-1 lead in set two.
The set would be dominated by three of the newcomers on the team. Transfers McClendon and Okaro, and freshman Ivana Jeremic, recorded 17 kills in the set.
Without ever being challenged in the set, the Sun Devils coasted to a 25-15 win and a 2-0 lead in the match.
The third set was by far the most dramatic of the first three. The Stags tied their largest lead of the match and led by three in the middle of the set.
The Sun Devils refused to be held down, battled back and won the set and the match, taking home the third set by a score of 29-27.
In her first game in the maroon and gold, Okaro shined. She recorded 16 kills on 22 swings with just one error and also registered five block assists. Her .682 hitting percentage paced the game by a large margin.
Also making their debuts, Jeremic and McClendon both finished with impressive stat lines too, finishing with hitting percentages of .400 and .364, respectively.
In the nightcap, ASU took on the hometown New Mexico Lobos. The match was fairly even to start as neither team held a lead more than two throughout the majority of the first set.
The Lobos jumped out to an early lead and were able to maintain it by forcing a couple of ASU errors.
With neither team hitting above .200, neither was able to make a run and create any separation. The deficit remained at either one or a tie game all the way until New Mexico took a 23-21 lead, which prompted a timeout from first-year head coach Stevie Mussie.
The offensive struggles that Mussie previously talked about were glaringly apparent in the first set for the Sun Devils. No one on the team had more than three kills and only sophomore middle blocker Jasmine Koonts finished without and error. She ended with two kills on three swings, good for a .667 hitting percentage.
The Sun Devils lost the first set by a final score of 25-23. Offensively, both McClendon and fellow transfer Okaro paced the team with three kills each, but both hit just .167.
The second set followed the same narrative as the first with little separating the two teams. The set as a whole saw 14 ties and three lead changes.
Okaro continued to emerge as a leader from a statistical standpoint. Following her impressive showing against Fairfield, she played well through the first two sets and totaled seven kills and two blocks.
Sophomore outside hitter Lexi Maclean had an impressive second set as well, as she tallied three kills late in the set to secure the 25-21 victory in set two. Maclean also had a solo block late in the set to give ASU a 19-18 lead.
After struggling in the first set, senior outside hitter Cassidy Pickrell played a much better second set, as she recorded five kills to bring her team-high total to eight in the match.
With the match tied at one set apiece, the Sun Devils looked to put themselves in the driver’s seat in set three.
After falling behind early, an ace from Kylie Pickrell put ASU back in the lead at 9-8. The Sun Devils looked as though they were going to pull away but the Lobos battled back and took the lead at 23-22.
With their backs against the wall the Sun Devils rattled off a couple points of their own, forcing a win-by-two situation.
The Lobos held their own and won the third set by a score of 29-27.
The fourth set got off to a rough start for the Sun Devils, as they quickly found themselves down 7-1.
The set would continue to go the Lobos’ way. They found themselves up comfortably 19-12, which prompted the second timeout of the set by Mussie.
The timeout wouldn’t change much, and the Lobos cruised to the fourth-set victory, 25-20, and secured the win as well.
The Sun Devils ended the first day of their season, and the first day of the Stevie Mussie era, with an even 1-1 record. They will look to come out of the tournament with a winning record when they take on Abilene Christian University tomorrow at 3 p.m.