It’s beginning to sound like a formula: play three games, win nine straight sets and move on.
The No. 16 ASU volleyball team swept its way through the ASU Marriott Invitational, winning in straight sets against Cal Poly, Alabama State and Louisiana-Monroe to win the tournament, the last in its nonconference slate.
That formula changes significantly when Pac-12 play starts Tuesday. Nevertheless, the weekend allowed the Sun Devils to fine-tune minor details against weaker opposition before the grind of conference play.
Before the tournament, coach Jason Watson said involving the middle blockers and improving from the service line were two points of emphasis, and the Sun Devils lived up to the task.
It started Friday night, when sophomore setter Bianca Arellano ignited the home crowd with what Watson said were her best and most powerful serves of the season.
Arellano accredited it to playing in a familiar environment for the first time.
“When we were in Illinois last weekend, I wasn’t jump serving,” Arellano said. “It’s a different environment. Obviously, you want to always learn how to land in hostile environments, but it’s nice being in a home gym with the crowd behind me.”
Six of Arellano’s serves touched down for aces in the Marriott Invitational, a tournament-best. The Sun Devils as a whole totaled 20 aces, also a weekend-best.
Also in order was increased offensive involvement by middle blockers such as sophomores Whitney Follette and Mercedes Binns.
Binns did not play against Alabama State, the first match she was rested all season.
Yet she still recorded 13 kills, a weekend-best, despite only playing against Cal Poly and Louisiana-Monroe.
“When the planets align for her, it’s a pretty nice play,” Watson said. “We would like her to hit with a little bit more range, but she certainly came out, and she’s been working on that.”
The increased distribution to middle blockers is because of, in large part, the efforts of Arellano, who sent more sets to blockers in the match against Cal Poly in order to give the outside hitters a rest.
Follette wasn’t nearly as effective offensively, but provided a spark on the defensive side. She notched five solo blocks against Alabama State, the most in a single match by a Sun Devil in 2013.
The entire team blocked well in the Marriott Invitational, evidenced by the Sun Devils’ combined 20 solo blocks in the three-game span. They recorded just six in the Illini Classic.
Although Watson didn’t explicitly say it was a focus, he had to have been pleased with the offensive efficiency of the hitters.
Against Louisiana-Monroe, the Sun Devils hit a match-best .374. A high hitting percentage means few hitting errors leading to ASU tying a season-low with just 10 against ULM.
The UA Wildcats come to Tempe for the first Pac-12 matchup and first Territorial Cup Series game Tuesday night at 8:00 p.m. at Wells Fargo Arena.
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