Volleyball suffers heartbreaker in 1st round of NCAA tournament

Junior middle blocker Alexis Pinson goes up for a spike as freshman setter Allison Palmer watches in anticipation during an ASU victory in its own Sheraton Invitational on Sept. 14. (Photo by Kyle Newman)

The dream of a championship run ended early for ASU, as the Sun Devils (20-14, 9-11 Pac-12) were knocked out of the tournament in the first round at the hands of the Oklahoma Sooners.

The Sun Devils’ first round matchup went five sets, but in the end, couldn’t prevail over a tough Oklahoma (22-10, 9-6 Big 12) team.

ASU came out strong in the first set, playing rather unaffected by the Oklahoma blockers. ASU raced out to an 11-4 lead early and never looked back. Although they committed nine errors in the set, the Sun Devils racked up 18 kills en route to their 25-20 set victory.

The Sooners came out much stronger in the second set to flip the momentum on the Sun Devils. Oklahoma never trailed in the second set after getting off to a quick 3-0 lead. Hitting at .355 for the set, the Sooners closed out the Sun Devils 25-19 to tie the game at 1-1 heading into the break.

Coming out of the break, Oklahoma continued with the momentum it gained in the second set, and worked with it in the third. Both teams were tied at 5-5 before the Sooners went on a 7-point run to build a comfortable lead over the Sun Devils. While the Sooners hit only .281 in the set, the Sun Devils hit a game-low .073 as the team fell down 2-1 heading into the fourth set.

Playing with energy and urgency, the Sun Devils were able to take the set from Oklahoma 25-18. The Sun Devils didn’t do anything spectacular on the attack, but they still forced the Sooners into 11 errors in the set, causing them to hit at a .053 percentage in the set.

The final set proved to be as intense as many would expect with both team’s seasons hanging in the balance. Both battled back-and-forth until the Sun Devils broke off for a small 11-9 lead. After calling a timeout, the Sooners rallied back with three straight points to take a 12-11 lead. An Oklahoma service error tied the game back up at 12-12, before ASU gave a point back with an immediate service error of its own. That gave the Sooners all the momentum they needed as Oklahoma would go on to close the decisive set, 15-13.

“We just cam up a little short,” ASU coach Jason Watson said “It wasn’t a lack of effort or focus, they really gave everything, I feel for them”

The Sun Devils season ends with 20 wins, the most in season for ASU since 1993. The trip to the tournament was the first for ASU since its last trip in 2006.

“We overachieved,” Watson said. “They overachieved, they believed probably more in themselves than anybody else did.”

Four different Sun Devils finished the night with 10 or more kills: Freshman middle blocker Whitney Follete (14), freshman outside hitter Macey Gardner (15), junior middle blocker Alexis Pinson (10) and senior outside hitter Erica Wilson (15) all finished with double-digit kills.

 

Reach the reporter at talopez3@asu.edu