After dropping two of its last three matches, the No. 16 ASU volleyball team (13-3, 2-2 Pac-12) faces another weekend in the Pac-12 gauntlet, this time against Washington State and No. 6 Washington.
UW (11-1, 3-1 Pac-12) is the marquee matchup of the weekend on Sunday afternoon. The Huskies, who were ranked No. 1 just a week ago, fell to No. 6 after losing to unranked Colorado in four sets Friday night.
On Friday night, ASU faces a much easier test at WSU (14-3, 1-3 Pac-12). The Cougars have lost their last three of four after starting the season with 13 straight nonconference victories.
But as proven by ASU, which lost to unranked Oregon last weekend, any game against a Pac-12 opponent has its challenges.
Sophomore outside hitter Macey Gardner said regardless of the team, playing on the road is always tough.
“When we go away, it’s hard no matter what gym you’re going into,” Gardner said.
ASU coach Jason Watson said WSU has a unique home court advantage.
“It’s one of the outliers in the conference in that they don’t play in a big arena. They play in this small little gym, and so they’ll get 800 to a thousand people, and it’ll be really loud,” Watson said. “We didn’t play there last year because of the conference (split), so for a big bulk of this team, it’s the first trip to Pullman (WSU).”
Offensively, WSU looks to freshman outside hitter Kyra Holt, who leads her team with 4.18 kills per set. No other Cougar averages over three kills per set.
“We’re going to have to put some pressure on (Holt),” Watson said. “Not very many people have.”
Against UW, Watson said clean play is vital, something ASU has struggled with in the past few matches.
“Coming off the heels of our Oregon match where we weren’t very clean, that’s something we’re going to have to upgrade significantly,” Watson said. “They don’t make any mistakes.”
The Huskies, who are playing their first Pac-12 home matchups this weekend, are second in the conference in hitting percentage and first in service aces. Senior libero Jenna Orlandini, sophomore outside hitter Cassie Strickland and senior setter Jenni Nogueras are second, third and fourth in the Pac-12 in aces, respectively.
But most of the Huskies’ offensive attack comes from junior outside hitter Krista Vansant, who has recorded 3.92 kills per set.
“I don’t think there’s a player in the country as good as Vansant right now,” Watson said. “I think she’s just playing the game at a whole different level. She’s got to be a candidate for player of the year.”
The Sun Devils have failed to win the serve receive battle recently, something Watson said is crucial this weekend.
“We’re going to give up points; it’s inevitable,” Watson said. “But the way we’ve given them up lately has just been a little disappointing. We’ve given up some real cheap points on our passing.”
Garnder said the expectation this weekend is simple.
“We’re going to come home with two wins,” Gardner said. “I think we’re hungry especially after (last) weekend where we know we could have played better. We’re just getting that second chance this weekend.”
The Sun Devils play WSU in Pullman, Wash., on Friday at 6:00 p.m. before traveling to Seattle to play the Huskies Sunday.
Gardner, who had been playing with a splint on her hitting hand for several weeks, will not play with the splint this weekend. She said her hand is no longer in pain but that it will be wrapped up with tape for precautionary measures.
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