The No. 16 ASU volleyball team (12-2, 1-1 Pac-12) dropped its first conference match Friday night, falling in straight sets to the No. 7 Stanford Cardinal (9-2, 2-0 Pac-12) 25-17, 25-19, 25-22, in Stanford, Calif.
The Sun Devils hit just .152 in the match because of 25 attack errors, their worst numbers in those categories since the loss to then-No. 14 Illinois.
Coach Jason Watson said his team was prepared, but failed to execute against one of the best programs in the nation.
“I thought we were ready, I felt we were prepared,” Watson said. “I don’t think tonight was a lack of effort on our half.”
The Cardinal rolled through the first and second sets, using their many weapons to distribute their offense. Sophomore middle blocker Inky Ajanaku, senior middle blocker Carly Wopat and senior outside hitter Rachel Williams all had six or more kills after two sets.
ASU sophomore outside hitter Macey Gardner said the Sun Devils struggled to get ahead early.
“We started off slow on all three of those sets,” Gardner said. “Finding energy was hard tonight.”
After falling behind 13-20 in the third set, ASU showed some resolve and strung together a 9-3 run behind four kills from Gardner. It was too little too late for ASU, though, and Stanford sealed the straight-sets victory on a block from Ajanaku and sophomore setter Madi Bugg.
The Cardinal continued the offensive distribution in the third set, and four Cardinal players ended up with seven or more kills.
Stanford won the serve/receive battle, totaling six service aces and causing chaos in the Sun Devil defense.
Gardner said errant first passes trickled down the line, ending up with difficult sets for hitters.
“When we struggle passing it’s going to be hard for the offense to put up a good ball,” Gardner said. “So the sets aren’t going to be great and then you have hitters that are trying to take swings at those kind of balls.”
The Sun Devils struggled all evening to get an outside hitter going consistently. Gardner totaled 17 kills in the match but had nine attack errors. Freshman outside hitters BreElle Bailey and Kizzy Willey combined for 14 kills but also recorded 10 errors.
ASU also did without the consistent blocking that served them so well in the midweek match against Arizona. The Sun Devils had just one solo block all night, representative of a larger failure to slow down the Cardinal hitters, who overpowered the ASU front line.
The Sun Devils, who struggled in 2012 playing on the road, fall to 0-1 in conference play away from Wells Fargo Arena.
“We’re young,” Gardner said. “I don’t want to use that as an excuse but it just shows that we have a lot to learn and conference play is going to be tough.”
The Sun Devils get a full six days of rest before continuing Pac-12 play. They host Oregon State next Friday at 6:00 p.m. at Wells Fargo Arena.
Reach the reporter at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @BenMargiott.