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Looking ahead: volleyball non-conference

(Photo: ASU Athletics)

Last year, the Sun Devils’ women’s volleyball team was recovering from a five year stretch of sub-.500 records that spanned back to 2007. The team started out blazing hot through a manageable non-conference, heading into Pac-12 play with an 11-2 record.

Can they do it again this year?

Instead of playing the relatively easier opponents of last season’s non-conference, the 2013 schedule looks much more daunting. Last year, only four of the Sun Devils’ 14 non-conference opponents made it into the NCAA tournament, and none of those teams made it past the second round.

The team did have a 3-1 record against those tournament teams, however.

Looking ahead to the 2013 non-conference schedule, coach Jason Watson sees a harder road.

“It’s a more difficult non-conference schedule for us,” Watson said. “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 in a position to get a nice seed going into the tournament.”

This year, the Devils will play a Sweet 16 team (Wichita State) in their opening weekend.

“[Wichita State] is returning a lot of talent,” Watson said. “We get them in the first weekend, so that’s going to be, from a national perspective, the first significant test run.”

Two weeks later, they’ll be taking the court against Texas, who is coming off of a 2012 national championship.

While no other teams from this season’s non-conference schedule played in the 2012 National Tournament, there are a few big names, such as Illinois, who made the championship game two years ago.

“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 [speculation] is unrealistic,” Watson said.

Much like last year, Arizona State is going to find themselves away from home for the early season tests, as they’ll play in nine matches before the Sheraton Classic in Tempe, Arizona, the team’s home opener.

Expectations are going to be high for the team, coming off of its first 20-win season since 1993. To put that in perspective: no player in this year’s incoming freshman class was even born the last time that ASU had accomplished that feat.

You can reach Trey Lanthier on Twitter @TreyLanthier or by email

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