(Photo: Jasmyne Lott/WCSN)
The No. 18 Arizona State volleyball team is set to finish off the last tournament of their non-conference slate, the Residence Inn Invitational, with a doubleheader at home in Wells Fargo Arena. The Sun Devils will face the winless North Carolina Central Eagles and the Pepperdine Waves, after their grueling loss against No. 8 Colorado State on Friday.
The absence of injured junior middle blocker Whitney Follette was felt early and often as ASU fell down two sets to the Rams. They ended up fighting back, carried by senior outside hitter Macey Gardner’s 15 kills, but could not pull through in the late stages as they fell in five sets, (25-23, 25-20, 18-25, 17-25, 15-5) to drop their record to 8-2.
Digs were the difference maker in this match as ASU was out-dug 59-72. It seemed as if every potential kill was miraculously saved and kept in play by the talented Rams, who then countered for kills of their own. Even though it is marked in the loss column, there are some positives to be taken from this game.
“A lot of good came out of this match,” ASU head coach Jason Watson said. “We use these matches before conference play to get some things figured out and tuned.”
ASU hopes that some of the things that need to be figured out include the way they start matches, as falling behind early has become a habit all throughout the beginning portion of the season. The Sun Devils strive to get back on track versus the Eagles and Waves on Saturday so they can get into tip-top shape in time for Pac-12 play.
vs North Carolina Central
The Eagles have struggled mightily in the early going of the season, losing all 13 of their matches thus far. In fact, they have only claimed 2 of 41 sets to begin the year, and it is hard to believe that will change in their tilt against ASU. Sophomore outside hitter Kelsey Murphy, who leads the team in kills with 92, and junior middle hitter Kelly Rossip, who has tallied 66 kills, will try to guide their squad in the daunting task of outscoring the Sun Devils’ dominant hitters.
It is hard to envision this being much of a competitive game, especially if Arizona State gets into a rhythm offensively. The Eagles just do not have the talent to keep up and it could get ugly quickly as it will be surprising if the Sun Devils do not complete a dominant sweep.
The Waves are a young team led by sophomore outside hitters Jillian Bergeson and Gaby Palmeri, each with 104 and 102 kills respectively. It has been an up-and-down season for the unseasoned lineup as they lost the first two games of the Bluejay Invitational this past weekend but bounced back in a sweep against Bowling Green and eventually a sweep against North Carolina Central in this tournament. They hope to keep the momentum rolling and finish the weekend off on a high note.
A player to watch in this match is ASU sophomore outside hitter McKenzie Willey. She is emerging as an important asset for this Sun Devil squad and it was showcased in the Colorado State game, tacking on 13 kills, most of which came in the first set. If she starts off the same way, expect ASU to take the lead and never look back on their way to another victory.