When the ASU volleyball team (13-7, 2-6 Pac-12) embarked on last year’s four-game conference road trip, it wasn’t pretty.
The Sun Devils lost all four matches and were swept by both UCLA and Utah.
Coach Jason Watson said he hopes the outcome is different in this year’s road stretch, when the Sun Devils take on Utah, Colorado, Oregon and Oregon State.
“We, at worst, need to come out with some splits here,” Watson said. “If you can go one of two on the weekends then I think you’re feeling like you’ve done a pretty good job.”
The road trip begins this Thursday in Salt Lake City, Utah, against the Utes (15-4, 4-4 Pac-12).
“They’re in a 6-2 (formation), so they’re going to pressure us at the antennas the whole time,” Watson said. “We’ve got to be better at defending that than we were this past weekend, when both teams were in the 6-2.”
Senior middle blocker Erin Redd-Brandon is the biggest force in Utah’s block, which is second in the Pac-12. The 6-foot-3 Redd-Brandon averages 1.39 blocks per set, good for best in the conference and 16th nationally.
Next up is the Colorado Buffaloes, which the Sun Devils face Sunday.
The Buffaloes (12-6, 4-5 Pac-12) have yet to drop a conference home match. While the altitude at Colorado certainly is a factor, Watson said he believes the hardest part about playing the Buffaloes in Boulder is that they have improved significantly from years past.
“I think people are making a huge deal about the altitude and all of that kind of stuff,” Watson said. “I think it’s a factor, but I don’t think it’s a prevailing factor. The bigger issue is that they’re better.”
Colorado joined the Pac-12 in 2011 along with Utah, and won its first-ever conference road match just last weekend by sweeping the Oregon State Beavers in Corvallis, Ore.
The Buffaloes, which have also defeated the No. 3 Washington Huskies, look to continue their home dominance this weekend.
ASU, which was 13-8 and 2-6 in conference play this time last year, was able to make some strides later in the season, something Watson said is doable in 2013.
“We’re still a team that, I think, if we can get some momentum here, we’re an NCAA tournament team,” Watson said. “There’s lots to play for.”
The players certainly haven’t given up on the season.
Freshman outside hitter BreElle Bailey said the team is prepped for a winning weekend.
“We’re just looking to win any way we can,” Bailey said. “We’re prepared to play volleyball for a long period of time.”
Sophomore outside hitter Bianca Arellano said the team has strayed from its preseason identity, something they hope to recover this weekend.
“In the beginning of the year, we talked about out-teaming teams,” Arellano said. “We kind of went away from it.”
The Sun Devils start the weekend Thursday at Utah at 6:30 p.m.
– Watson said he doesn’t know yet if Bailey will start on the left or on the right on Thursday.
– Freshman outside hitter Kizzy Willey, who has been playing with a knee brace since she injured her knee Friday, said she is ready to play through a little pain this weekend and that the knee is mostly healed.
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