Sun Devils tame Wolverines in volleyball opener

Showcasing its roster depth from the first serve, the ASU volleyball team defeated Utah Valley University Friday night 25-21, 25-18, 25-10, despite playing without sophomore setter Allison Palmer, who did not play at coach Jason Watson’s discretion.

“We went with a 5-1 and we went with Bianca,” Watson said. “We thought that it just gave us a little bit more diversity in the offense. These are tough decisions and it’s nothing at all against Allison.”

Palmer, who played this summer with the USA Volleyball Junior National Team, was expected to be the starting setter after leading the Sun Devils in assists in 2012.

Bianca Arellano, a sophomore setter transfer from the University of Tennessee, filled in for Palmer capably, racking up 32 assists and a pair of service aces in her first career match at ASU.

“It was exhilarating,” Arellano said. “This was the home opening for Utah Valley. They had a huge crowd. They got a lot of energy going.”

Arellano, a Phoenix native, distributed her sets well utilizing both sophomore outside hitter Macey Gardner and freshman outside hitter BreElle Bailey. Gardener and Bailey combined for 26 kills in the winning campaign.

Because the setter controls the offensive flow, Arellano said she could purposefully incorporate the team’s freshmen early.

“I wanted to start out feeding Bailey and feeding (Kizzy) Willey because they’re freshmen,” Arellano said. “You have to give them confidence. This is their first starting match too.”

As if playing in their first collegiate volleyball match wasn’t enough pressure, Bailey and Willey faced the additional stresses of playing in front of a home crowd. Both had many friends and family members in attendance as they went to high school less than 15 miles away from Utah Valley.

“There’s expectations on you when you come home,” Watson said.

Willey provided three kills off the bench, but ended with a negative hitting percentage due to her five hitting errors.

“It’s a big stage for her to start her career on,” Watson said. “She’s going to work her way into some stuff.”

Even with Palmer on the bench, Watson knew his team was deep enough for a smooth victory.

The Sun Devils started slowly in the first set, giving the Wolverines a glimpse of hope that was squashed in the following sets.

“We played better and better as the match went on,” Watson said. “We played cleaner, the numbers got better. Overall, it’s a very pleasing start to the season for us.”

It was also a unique environment to start the season as the design of the gym made serving more difficult for Arellano and her teammates.

“Usually, I don’t really serve from the middle,” Arellano said. “If the lights are on the right side, I can’t serve so I kind of got in the middle.”

Arellano overcame this challenge to spearhead a 6-0 run in the second set, ensuring the momentum stayed with the Sun Devils.

The tournament continues tomorrow in Orem with matches against No. 24 Wichita State at 10 a.m. and North Dakota State at 4:30 p.m.

Reach the reporter at bmargiot@asu.edu or follow him on Twitter @BenMargiott.