(Photo: Hannah Franklin/WCSN)
In what is becoming a collective and individually record-breaking season for the No. 7 Arizona State Sun Devils, last night’s victory over No. 14 Arizona stemmed from a tactical change that was a sort of rebirth of ASU’s last two seasons with senior setter Bianca Arellano running the offense.
After the Wildcats ran away with the second set, 25-12, ASU came out of the third-set break and opted to go with the 5-1 system with Arellano as the lone setter, moving away from the 6-2 the Sun Devils have used in 2015.
ASU head coach Jason Watson admitted it was a change that was “absolutely driven” by the status of freshman setter Kylie Pickrell, who sustained a knee injury in the fourth set of ASU’s win over then-No. 6 Illinois. Pickrell was a limited participant in practice this week and played the first two sets against Arizona, but Watson decided it was best to rest his freshman setter.
“I thought we were asking Kylie to do a lot – maybe too much – than she’s able to do right now,” Watson said.
Arellano was able to lead the Sun Devils to wins in the subsequent two sets to keep ASU’s record at an unblemished 12-0, but that begs the question of what that means for the Sun Devils moving forward.
“The only thing I can say right now is we’re a 6-2 team that because of an injury had to go to a 5-1,” Watson said. “I think we’re going to move forward under that philosophy.”
On the bright side and despite Pickrell’s health being a question mark moving forward, the Sun Devils were efficient with Arellano commanding the offense as she did as a sophomore and junior. In sets three and four, ASU hit at a .358 clip and made only one attacking error in the fourth set.
“I think there’s a degree of familiarity to it (the 5-1),” Watson said. “We did it all week (in practice).”
Arellano dished out a season-high 39 assists as well, jumping up to No. 5 all-time in career assists in ASU history. And despite standing just 5-foot-8, she was more than able to help her team keep Arizona to a .146 hitting percentage in the final set.
Arellano says she can touch 9-feet, 7-to-8 inches, and she racked up 61 blocks in 2014, so she has proven to be able to more than hold her own in the front row over the last two seasons.
“We’ve always said that it’s (running a 6-2) not a matter of us not believing that our setters can block balls,” Watson said.
The Sun Devils have thrived in a 6-2 as a high-level, high-volume blocking team and currently sit at sixth in the country with 3.13 blocks per set as of September 23, so going forward, ASU’s blocking numbers will be interesting to watch if Pickrell remains out of commission with her knee injury. Watson says she is day-to-day and questionable for Sunday’s match against Oregon State.
Given Arellano’s track record, ASU has all the confidence in the world in its senior setter moving forward, but that also doesn’t make a change in its philosophy when Pickrell is at full strength.
“I don’t think it’s as big a change or dramatic a change as you’re making it out to be,” Watson said. “I think the dramatic change would be is if you’re in a 5-1, and all of a sudden, you throw a 6-2 on some people.”
ASU will try to remain perfect on the season when it welcomes Oregon State to Wells Fargo Arena on September 27, but the Sun Devils will surely want to be at full strength when they host No. 8 Stanford on October 2.
You can reach Zac Pacleb on Twitter @ZacPacleb or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.