ASU volleyball coach Jason Watson was quick to deflect questions about the possibility of the Sun Devils being ranked after a dominant weekend.
“Who cares?” he said. “Who knows?”
The Sun Devils swept sets against Utah Valley, No. 24 Wichita State and North Dakota State in the La Quinta Inn & Suites Invitational this weekend en route to a 3-0 start, the program’s second such start in as many years.
This year, the Sun Devils not only defeated a ranked team but also failed to lose a set all weekend.
“I think it means that our program’s doing some nice things and making some necessary improvements to the game,” Watson said. “We’re extremely pleased with the way we’re playing right now.”
Even more impressive was the fact that sophomore setter Allison Palmer, who competed with the USA Junior National Team this summer, watched it all transpire from the bench.
“We went with Bianca (Arellano),” Watson said. “We thought that it just gave us a little bit more diversity in the offense. There’s lots of volleyball left, but that’s how we started.”
Arellano, a University of Tennessee transfer playing in her first games as a Sun Devil, started in Palmer’s place, compiling 110 assists and 21 digs over the course of the weekend.
Another surprise was the effectiveness of freshman outside hitter BreElle Bailey, who impressed in preseason play but proved her prowess against quality competition this weekend.
Bailey, who was playing just minutes from her hometown of Highland, Utah, totaled 37 kills, second only to sophomore outside hitter Macey Gardner, in what served as her coming-out party.
She also boasted hitting percentages of .550 and .636 in her first two games, respectively. Gardner, a Pac-12 All-Star last year, hit .189 across the season.
While numbers that big will likely settle down, the fact remains that Bailey earned her starting spot in a very competitive lineup.
Freshman outside hitter Kizzy Willey proved a capable piece to the puzzle this weekend, occasionally giving Gardner a rest.
“I don’t feel like I’m new to this team at all,” Willey said. “I’ve been with these girls for eight months now.”
Overcoming a lackluster performance in her career opener, Willey settled into form as the weekend progressed, culminating with a nine-kill match against Wichita State. Watson rested her for the North Dakota State match in favor of junior outside hitter Nora Tuioti-Mariner.
Senior libero Stephanie Preach led her squad defensively this weekend, totaling 48 digs in her three starts.
Preach also added four service aces, representative of a quality team performance from the service line in the first tournament. The Sun Devils posted 15 aces and used quality serves to open up more opportunities for scoring.
The Sun Devils look to continue their impressive run Friday in Spokane, Wash. ASU will face Seattle, UNLV and Gonzaga in the Gonzaga Invitational.
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