(Photo: ASU Athletics)
Last year, the Sun Devils’ volleyball team had one of its best seasons in recent memory, certainly the best that head coach Jason Watson (hired in 2008) had experienced. WCSN caught up with Watson for some important questions about the upcoming season.
Q. How is Macey Gardner looking heading into this season?
A. I think heading into the ’13 season, it’s gonna be a little bit tougher for her. She’s created this identity for herself with her freshman year, a wonderful identity. Teams now need to pay attention to her, probably more so than they did last year. So that’s going to be a different challenge for her. Certainly we look to her to score points. We’re going to look to her, because she’s seasoned, she’s returning, to lead us. Her role doesn’t change as much as it evolves. I’m excited to see how she’s doing. She went to China with the Pac-12 team, and it helped her develop. We’re really excited to see where her career goes from now.
Q. What are your thoughts on Gardner and Palmer’s international play?
A. What’s wonderful about it is that they’re playing volleyball. They’re playing volleyball in a structured environment at a real high level. Allison (Palmer) can’t play the game at her age group any higher than what she experienced over in the Czech Republic. Those are wonderful experiences. Those are experiences that not everybody is fortunate to get. I’m thrilled that they both got to do that. If we’re looking, Allison is a returning player that started for us last year. We just want to build upon it, build upon it, build upon it. We’re fortunate now at Arizona State that we’re having players that people want on these teams, and that speaks volumes to them and the work ethic that they have.
Q. What can you tell me about the 2013 recruiting class?
A. Two of our 2013 recruits graduated high school early, McKenzie Willey and Bree Bailey. So they were in the gym with us this January, and certainly that was an incredible benefit to us as we try to figure out how we’re going to start our 2013 season. Kwyn Johnson is joining us this year on campus now for summer. The three of them are tall and physical. Bree 6’4, Kwyn 6’4, McKenzie 6’1. We expect them to be in the mix from the get-go. More likely than not, it wouldn’t surprise me if two of the three are playing for us in August. We expect a lot out of them, and we recruited them, expecting a lot out of them. It’s exciting, hopefully they’re getting excited about it. We’re excited about them. They’re a wonderful recruiting class, and we expect an enormous amount out of them.
Q. How is the 2013 non-conference schedule looking compared to 2012?
A. It’s a more difficult non-conference schedule for us. We get Wichita State, a Sweet 16 team, and they’re returning a lot of talent. We get them in the first weekend, so that’s going to be – from a national perspective – the first significant test run. Later on in the non-conference, the third weekend, we go to Illinois, and we play Illinois, and we play Texas. Texas is the defending national champion. Illinois, two seasons ago, played for the national championship. We did it on purpose. We wanted to make sure that our non-conference RPI had a little boost so that we can put ourselves into a position to get a nice seed going into the tournament. If we were to end the non-conference with only two losses, we would say that was a wonderfully successful non-conference for us. We’d like to end it with no losses, but some of that stuff is unrealistic.
Q. What do you see as the most dramatic losses from last year to this year?
A. The loss of Erica Wilson, we lose someone that was scoring a lot of points for us. Whenever that happens, you’re nervous. You’re trying to find a replacement. You lose that experience. We need to make sure that in some way we’re helping these freshmen, and we’re helping these sophomores, and we’re making sure that we’re bringing them along as the season goes on. Erica is a big loss for us, it’s a huge loss for us. Sarah Clause is another big loss for us – Sarah was hurt, and didn’t see any playing time her senior year because of her injury. But her impact on our team was one of her maturity, encouragement. She was essentially another coach for us, that helps manage relationships, helps athletes overcome and endure with the stress of competition. both of them are significant losses but in different ways. Now we’re going to be this very young team, and we’re going to look to Stephanie Preach. Stephanie’s our senior libero heading into the ’13 season. Her role is going to expand.
The Sun Devils start their 2013 campaign against Utah Valley on August 30th. Check back at cronkitesports.com for coverage of ASU volleyball all season long.
You can reach Trey Lanthier on Twitter @TreyLanthier or by email firstname.lastname@example.org.