(Photo: Blake Bernard/WCSN)
The Arizona State Sun Devils, who finished the year 19-12, have their first NCAA tournament match against the 24-7 Florida State Seminoles in Gainesville.
One of the biggest things mentally for the Sun Devils is simply the fact that they have a fresh start going into the tournament.
“I felt like there was that constant pressure the entire time we were playing,” freshman setter Kylie Pickrell said. “Now that we have a clean slate we just have to relax and go out there and play our game.”
For the Sun Devils playing their game comes down to a few key factors.
First, the Sun Devils will look to get back their defensive identity. Just four one hundredths of a block off the pace for leading the Pac-12, they have made a living by blocking teams this season and play a lot better when those totals are high.
In their last two matches of the season, both losses, the Sun Devils were out-blocked. How they play defensively will be pivotal in their success.
Secondly for the Sun Devils, there has to be offensive balance. The team is a lot more successful when the workload is spread out.
Junior outside hitter Cassidy Pickrell took 63 swings in ASU’s last match against University of Arizona. That number is too high while only producing 18 kills and 15 errors. With one person dominating the attempts the offense begins to be stagnant.
Junior outside hitter BreElle Bailey will be huge for the Sun Devils success in this match. On the year she finished second on the team in kills and has played very well down the stretch for ASU, recently receiving All-Pac-12 honorable mention accolades along with senior opposite Whitney Follette.
Head Coach Jason Watson was impressed by his team’s renewed sense of purpose in the practices that followed the selection show.
“I feel like we’re enthused again,” Watson said. “We were grinding through those last couple weeks of practice trying to get to the tournament. There’s been this realization that it’s a new season, so practices have taken a much different feel.”
Opposite to ASU, Florida State comes into the tournament having won four straight and finished the year at 24-7.
Senior outside hitter Nicole Walch is one player to watch on the Seminoles leading the team in kills per set, averaging over four this season which registered at fifth in conference. She also leads the team with 28 total aces on the year.
Defensively redshirt junior middle blocker Sarah Burrington leads FSU. At 6’5” she will be the tallest player on the court for either side and she averages 1.40 blocks per set, good for third in the ACC.
The match is set for 4:30 p.m. eastern time, in the O’Connell Center. It can be seen on ESPN3.