(Photo: Liesl Babicka)
TEMPE – The Arizona State Sun Devils were swept by the No. 18 Washington State Cougars on Wednesday evening at Wells Fargo Arena 21-25, 18-25, 20-25.
Sophomore outside hitter Lexi MacLean spoke to the theme of the season after the game: inconsistency.
“Being better all around at the same time. I feel like when we have a good block our defense struggles or vice versa,” she said. “If we can figure out to be consistently better, just a little bit better, at the same time that’s how we’ll be more successful.”
The Sun Devils remain the queens of the lowest Pac-12 hitting percentage after swinging .040 in the match. Junior middle blocker Oluoma Okaro hit .200 which was the highest on the team. Compare that to the Cougars top swinger, senior outside hitter Kyra Holt who hit nearly .400 and it was clear-cut why they got the win.
Head coach Stevie Mussie acknowledged the problem saying, “you have to be able to score. Having 100 swings and only 31 kills is a problem.”
The errors for the Sun Devils came early in the first set. Three errors by as many players combined with a kill gave the Cougars an early 7-3 lead.
The Cougars began to commit errors of their own and allowed the Sun Devils to tie it back up 8-8.
The Sun Devil errors returned after a timeout. This allowed the Cougars to tie it back up 17-17. The Sun Devils would finish the set with nine errors at the service line alone.
“It’s completely mental,” she said. “We get in the match and get nervous. We need to get them hitting their best serve all the time.”
The Sun Devils went up 19-18 when they missed a simple overpass. That was the turning point in the set.
Holt was responsible for three of the Cougars final seven points. She finished the set with a team-leading five kills. Mussie traces their inability to finish off sets to the size of their opposition.
“The longer the rallies go, our kids get a little more tired and their kids are still 6-5,” she said.
The set finished with the Cougars seventh block, as Washington State took the first set 25-14.
The second set started with even play, reflecting in the score with the biggest lead being two.
Washington State broke the 13-13 tie by winning eight of the next nine points. The Sun Devil’s lone point came on a Holt service error.
As the Sun Devils tried to make a comabck, they ran out of subs. In a desperate need for a good serve, Mussie took her setters off the court. ASU still lost the set 25-18 and entered a must-win scenario.
Holt dominated the offensive front for both teams with 11 kills through two sets, while no other player had more than six.
The start of the third set was perfectly characteristic of the game to that point. Five errors, four blocks, and one kill were the first ten points of the game.
Washington State won the next six of eight on the backs of Holt and sophomore middle Taylor Mims to take a 16-13 lead.
Arizona State looked to be mustering a comeback. Freshman outside hitter Ivana Jeremic and senior outside hitter Maya McClendon tacked on some kills, but it was just too late.
Another ASU error put the set at match point. The Cougars 13th block of the night completed the sweep with a 25-20 final set victory.
Sophomore setter Kylie Pickrell remains the superior of the three setters on the roster. She capped off her night tied for the most assist on either team with 14. But, even she identified room for personal improvement.
“For me, I would say being better on defense, keeping the serves tough even when we get close to an end of a game even if we’re down,” she said.
It doesn’t get any easier moving forward for the Sun Devils who fell to 8-13 on the season. They host the best team in the conference, No. 7 Washington, on Friday evening at 8 p.m. in Tempe.
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