(Photo: Zac Pacleb/WCSN)
Following a tumultuous off-season that included the departure of head coach Jason Watson after eight seasons, integrating a new crop of freshman and transfer students along with a new head coach in Stevie Mussie, and losing one of their seniors just days before the start of the regular season, the Arizona State volleyball team is ready to get 2016 underway.
The Sun Devils will open the season in the University of New Mexico tournament, playing three matches against Fairfield, New Mexico, and Abilene Christian.
This will be the first of four road tournaments ASU will play in to start its season, followed by their first two conference road matches against Arizona and Utah. The Sun Devils won’t play a home match until September 30th against Oregon.
As Mussie and Co. get ready to start the 2016 season, we take a look at the three teams they will face in the first weekend.
Fairfield Stags (2015: 21-10, 14-4 MAAC, lost in opening round of 2015 NCAA Tournament)
Led by seventh-year head coach Todd Kress, the winningest coach in Fairfield history with 134, the Stags will provide a good first test for the Sun Devils, having won 15 of the last 20 MAAC regular season championships.
The most dangerous returner for Fairfield is junior outside hitter Skyler Day, coming off of 2015 having recorded 420 kills and 344 digs, and led the team with 32 service aces.
Other notables include sophomore outside hitter Oyinkansola Akinola, who led team with 98 blocks, and junior outside hitter Megan Theiller, who notched 333 kills and 319 digs.
Match time will be 2 PM Arizona time on Friday.
New Mexico Lobos (2015: 17-14, 10-8 Mountain West Conference)
Going up against the hosts of the tournament in their second match, this will be the only true “road match” of the weekend for the Sun Devils. The Lobos had a down year, finishing fourth in their conference and missing the NCAA tournament.
The roster is led by senior outside hitters Devanne Sours who totaled 355 kills, 31 service aces, and played in all 116 sets in 2015 and Julia Warren, who accumulated 249 kills and 300 digs.
Match time will be 8 PM Arizona time on Friday.
Abilene Christian Wildcats (2015: 9-20, 9-7 Southland Conference)
The weakest of the three weekend opponents on paper, the Sun Devils will wrap up the first tournament of the season against the Wildcats, coached by Jason Bibler entering his third season.
The Wildcats, coming off a fifth-place finish in the Southland Conference, will be without their best player from 2015 in Jennifer Loerch due to graduation. However, they have notable returners such as sophomore MB Lauren Walker, who averaged 2.12 kills per set in 2015, and sophomore S/OH Kendall Bosse, who led team with 18 service aces.
Match time will be 3 PM Arizona time on Saturday.