When you defeat the national champion, a loss on the same day quickly fades from memory.
The ASU volleyball team (8-1) swept the No. 2 reigning national champion Texas Longhorns 25-18, 25-23, 25-21 Friday, emphatically bouncing back after losing that morning to No. 14 Illinois.
Head coach Jason Watson said the win was huge for the program.
“Texas is one of these marquee volleyball programs in the country,” Watson said. “When you think of outstanding volleyball teams, Texas is always included in that.”
It was the first time in ASU volleyball history that the Sun Devils defeated Texas and one of the program’s most prolific wins in its 41-year history.
“It’s a special group and I feel incredibly privileged to just be a part of it,” Watson said.
The Sun Devils impressed Watson, showing incredible composure and resolve after the loss to Illinois.
“We rebounded from one heartbreaking loss this morning to Illinois,” Watson said. “We got into a rhythm against Texas that enabled us to play well for a long period of time.”
The Sun Devils dominated the first set, cruising to a 25-18 win. But the Longhorns fought back in the second set, which featured 16 ties.
“We established this nice sideout rhythm and we were able to keep getting back to the service line,” Watson said. “It’s fun to see us respond in those competitive situations knowing how thin the margin is between a win and a loss.”
Having won the second set, ASU looked to sweep, and the motivation was tangible. After Texas tied the third set at 15, it was all ASU. The match ended on an attack error from Texas junior Khat Bell.
Against Texas, sophomore outside hitter Macey Gardner led her team offensively, recording 17 kills at a .389 hitting percentage. Freshman outside hitter Kizzy Willey had 10 kills.
The match was an incredible team effort: Six different players had three or more kills.
Sophomore middle blocker Whitney Follette led the team with three block assists and four service aces. She also contributed four kills, hitting .500 along the way.
The Illini Classic wasn’t all celebration though, as the day started with a five-set loss to the No. 14 Illinois Fighting Illini.
“Illinois put a little pressure on us,” Watson said. “We weren’t as composed as this morning.”
Momentum was with the Sun Devils as they led 14-13 in the final set. But one controversial call later and the momentum seemed to evaporate right before the Sun Devils’ eyes.
Just one point away from the win, Illinois’ Liz McMahon spiked a ball that appeared to bounce out of play.
“Apparently it wasn’t out of bounds,” Watson said. “Apparently it was in.”
Both Watson and senior libero Stephanie Preach discussed the call with the official.
“I thought it was out of bounds,” Follette said. “From where I was standing, it was clearly out.”
Illinois went on to win the match just a few points later. It was the first loss of the season, and so far, the only three sets ASU has lost.
The Sun Devils host the Marriott Invitational next weekend in Tempe. The tournament begins Friday night against Cal Poly.
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