The ASU volleyball team likely didn’t expect a win Friday against No. 1 USC, but Sunday’s match against UCLA was a must-win, and the Sun Devils failed to come through at home.
The losses have dropped the program’s record to 13-7 overall and 2-6 in conference play in 2013.
Things certainly won’t get easier as the team travels on a four-game road trip Thursday, its longest conference road stretch of the year.
Coach Jason Watson acknowledged the upcoming stretch in Sunday’s postgame interviews.
“No one’s won at Colorado and Utah’s only loss was to (USC),” Watson said. “And then we go to the Oregon schools.”
Regardless of what lies ahead, there are several glaring issues from the weekend that the ASU volleyball team must lock down soon.
For one, the Sun Devils recorded only 31 kills against USC, their lowest total in 2013 at that point. Think that was a low number? ASU had just 30 Sunday against UCLA, a team in a similar slump.
In the preseason, it appeared that ASU would get by without relying on senior leadership by counting on contributions from several younger players. Conference play has changed all of that.
Watson said the loss of last season’s senior leader Erica Wilson has been hard to overcome.
“She (was) in this key point-scoring position and without her, we’ve lost some of that, the ability to score points,” Watson said. “We were hoping that we could make it up in the aggregate sort of thing, but we haven’t been able to do that.”
In the preseason, sophomore outside hitter Macey Gardner had carried the team when other players failed to contribute. But Gardner’s contributions have decreased in conference play.
Along with 12 hitting errors, Gardner had just 15 kills against both USC and UCLA.
Outside hitters Kizzy Willey and BreElle Bailey, who shined in non-conference play, have also been less effective in Pac-12 matches.
Bailey, who hit .320 during her stellar play in the non-conference slate, has seen that number drop to a mere .179 in conference play.
To stem that, Watson has considered moving Bailey, a right-handed hitter, to the left side to give her more swings. Both Bailey and Gardner would be left-side hitters. The right side could see production from Willey or junior outside hitter Nora Tuioti-Mariner.
“It’s silly to keep doing the same thing hoping for a different response,” Watson said. “We’ll throw (Bailey) over there on the left in practice and see what we get.”
The only option that Watson ruled out was the possibility of Gardner playing on the right.
“I think defensively her block is better on the left,” Watson said. “On the right it’s not quite as natural.”
Even without former middle blocker Alexis Pinson, Watson said he thinks the middles have played sufficiently.
“I don’t think we’re losing volleyball matches because of our middles,” Watson said. “I think we are struggling with a lack of depth.”
Watson also ruled out activating redshirt freshman outside hitter Kwyn Johnson.
“It’s not fair to her to do that kind of stuff,” Watson said.
The team’s road trip begins Thursday at 6:30 p.m. with a game against Utah in Salt Lake City, Utah.
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