The casual volleyball observer might suppose that playing the No. 6 team in the country would make for a pretty tough weekend. And it did. But that was last weekend, and this is Pac-12 volleyball, where you can end up facing the No. 1 team in the nation less than a week later.
Luckily for the No. 22 ASU volleyball team (13-5, 2-4 Pac-12), this time it will be facing a top-10 opponent at home, where it is 5-1.
The Sun Devils host the top-ranked USC Trojans Friday, and the recently unranked UCLA Bruins Sunday in another action-packed weekend of conference play.
The Women of Troy (16-1, 6-0 Pac-12) are the only Pac-12 team that is undefeated in conference play.
It’s in large part because of the superior physicality of the Trojans; something ASU coach Jason Watson said sets them apart.
“They’re probably the most physical team that we’re going to play,” Watson said. “I think they’re more physical than Texas.”
USC employs a 6-2 offensive system, meaning two designated setters are usually on the court. Both freshman Alice Pizzasegola and junior Hayley Crone have shouldered setting responsibilities for USC coach Mick Haley.
Washington and Texas used the 6-2 system, so the ASU volleyball team knows how to prepare.
“It always gives them three really good hitters on the front row where as the 5-1 you have two and maybe a back row hitter,” Watson said. “Within that, there’s some distinct tendencies that we have to pick up on, but it’s no different than any other system.”
The Trojans benefit from the conference’s leading libero, senior Natalie Hagglund, who averages 4.90 digs per set. Additionally, sophomore Samantha Bricio leads the NCAA with 0.76 aces per set.
But the offensive prowess comes from more than just a few players in USC’s versatile offense: Five different players average more than two kills per set.
It’s important to remember, though, that ASU still plays a match Sunday against UCLA (10-6, 1-5 Pac-12). And while the Bruins have lost five of their last six matches and fallen from No. 12 out of the AVCA poll, UCLA is still a team that won the national title in 2011.
“I think we tend to lose sight of that,” Watson said. “They’re still UCLA, and they have tremendous athletes, and they have good coaches.”
Regardless, the Bruins have struggled. UCLA is last in conference in opponent hitting percentage, service aces and digs.
For the first time in Pac-12 weekend play, ASU will face the tougher opponent Friday night, giving the team a few extra days to prepare.
Watson said a Friday night match could also help the attendance numbers.
“I think students are more inclined to come on a Friday or a Saturday than they are at 11 o’clock on a Sunday,” Watson said. “Nobody’s being really kind to us on the road, so it would be nice to reciprocate.”
Senior libero Stephanie Preach, who recorded 19 digs in last year’s home sweep over then-No. 6 USC, said beating one of the Los Angeles teams is always special.
“It’s always good to take down one of the USCs or the UCLAs,” Preach said. “They’re going to be big. We’re going to have to put up a fight.”
Friday’s match against USC starts at 8:00 p.m. and Sunday’s match against UCLA starts at 11:00 a.m. Both games are at Wells Fargo Arena.
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