(Photo: Noah Findling/WCSN)
The No. 25 Arizona State Sun Devils face off against the San Diego State Aztecs in Honolulu, Hawaii on Friday at 8 p.m. as part of the four-team Chevron Wahine Rainbow Classic. All eyes are on the Sun Devils as they are ranked in the preseason for the first time since 1996. As expectations and confidence soar, head coach Jason Watson looks to build upon an up-and-down 2013 campaign which saw them finish 19-14. He hopes to set ASU on a more consistent path of success, which all starts with the opener against SDSU. The Aztecs are looking to improve on an average 16-14 season last year in which they struggled mightily on the road, going 3-10 away from home.
San Diego State leads the all-time series against Arizona State 13-5. The teams last met in 2010 when the Aztecs took a four-set match in Tempe.
Arizona State Players To Watch
The Sun Devils flaunt experience from top to bottom, returning all but one starter. An important player to look for is junior outside hitter Macey Gardner who was named to the 2014 All-Pac-12 Preseason Team for the second consecutive year. She led the 2013 squad with 506 kills, including a dominant 29-kill, career-high performance on the road against Utah. Another player to watch is freshman libero Halle Harker, who is being looked at to step up into a big role on the team after the graduation of starter Stephanie Preach. Those are some big shoes to fill as Preach made her mark, finishing second on ASU’s all-time career digs list.
San Diego State Players To Watch
The Aztecs suffered impactful losses in the offseason, losing their top four leaders in kills. This means it is senior right-side hitter Chaiymin Steel’s time to shine, as she will have to adjust and become the experienced leader of this SDSU squad. She finished last year with 217 kills, which was fifth on the team. Another veteran to keep your eye on is middle blocker Kaja Sandberg, who averaged just under 1.5 kills and 1 block per set. Both returning starters look to get out to a fast start on the season while heading a young team.
What to Watch For
The big question going into this showdown is if Arizona State’s experience is just too much to handle for the unseasoned San Diego State lineup. Look for the Sun Devils to try to exploit the youth of the Aztecs early, giving them a healthy dose of Gardner and middle blocker Whitney Follette. SDSU will try to counter that by looking to expose Harker’s inexperience at libero. A balanced attack from ASU however, should spell the difference between these two squads.
Macey Gardner’s efficiency as a scorer combined with an inexperienced SDSU team will prove to be insurmountable for the Aztecs. The Sun Devils will get out to a fast start and never look back as they will cruise to three-set victory to start off the season.
You can reach Austen Browne by email at firstname.lastname@example.org