Possibly even more heartbreaking was the realization that senior libero Stephanie Preach had played her final volleyball game in a Sun Devil uniform.
The setter-turned-libero finished her career with 2,010 digs, good for second all-time among ASU volleyball players. Preach set her freshman year; if she had been libero all four years, Preach likely would have eclipsed Sydney Donahue’s first-place mark of 2,385 digs.
Also departing are senior defensive specialists Jenny Teslevich and Caitlyn Francis. As coach Jason Watson pointed out, Preach wouldn’t have been as good as she was without the competition she faces in practice.
“I think Stephanie got good because of the quality of people that were around her pushing her every day in Jenny Teslevich and Caitlyn Francis,” Watson said. “We lose all three of them, and so that is going to be difficult. It’s going to be difficult for us to duplicate that competitive environment.”
With Preach, Teslevich and Francis gone, there is now a massive hole in the ASU defense, a defense that at one point in the season led the Pac-12 in opposing hitting percentage.
Watson won’t replace Preach; that’s not possible. But he does have several options to consider in the offseason.
The clearest option is freshman libero Genevieve Pirotte, who watched from the sidelines as a redshirt during the 2013 season. Pirotte will be the only returning libero on ASU’s roster next season.
“We feel good about (Pirotte), we thought that she got a lot better the last three, four weeks of the season,” Watson said.
Another choice is the only remaining defensive specialist, senior-to-be Shannan McCready. Watson has also been impressed lately with McCready, who also acts as the backup setter.
The wild card option of the bunch is 2014 recruit Halle Harker, who played for Liberty High School (Bakersfield, Calif.) as a libero.
“We like a lot about what (Harker’s) doing, and so hopefully we can create another competitive environment, because if we’re not going to improve our ability to block, then we certainly have to dig a lot of balls,” Watson said.
Regardless of who the coaching staff chooses to start at libero in August, it is certain it will be an interesting process.
“(Losing a libero is) something we’re going to have to address for the first time, I think,” Watson said. “Those three have been with us for four years. It’s not a situation we’ve had to deal with for four years.”
Outside hitter Johnson progresses
Left-handed outside hitter Kwyn Johnson, who redshirted in 2013, will also become active for the 2014 season. Johnson is a hot commodity by virtue of her left-handedness, meaning she’s on the short list to start on the right side.
“She is certainly going to be in the mix and certainly having a year this season and then in the spring, we hope she’s going to continue to put in the time to make the changes that she needs,” Watson said.
Johnson will have to compete with sophomore-to-be Kizzy Willey and senior-to-be Nora Tuioti-Mariner. The two split time on the right side after BreElle Bailey switched to the left.
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