The ASU women’s volleyball team (11-3 overall, 1-1 Pac-10) stunned the volleyball world on Friday night, sweeping No. 14 UCLA 3-0 (25-16, 25-22, 25-22) before dropping a close match to No. 13 USC 3-1 (22-25, 25-21, 21-25, 22-25) on Saturday.
The victory over UCLA snapped a 13-match losing streak to the Bruins and moved ASU’s all-time mark against UCLA to 7-60.
“One of the things that we talked about coming into this was that we just had to be our identity for a long period of time, and if we were, good things would happen for us,” ASU coach Jason Watson said. “We didn’t need to be something other than what we were. [These athletes
are] the ones that have the magic, and [Friday] we got a return on that.”
A raucous crowd of 1,116 made the floor shake and clearly rattled the Bruins, forcing them into 24 attack errors and numerous defensive lapses due to the noise, allowing ASU to easily run away with the victory.
As the players emerged from the locker room after the match to engage the crowd, they were swarmed in the tunnel.
The Sun Devils never trailed in the first two sets, getting off to big leads early. The third set was tighter, with nine tie scores and three lead changes, but ASU weathered a late UCLA attack to take the set and the match.
“We stayed calm,” junior outside hitter Sarah Reaves said. “Usually when we get there, we get kind of crazy, and another team pushes and we don’t really push back. [Friday], we stayed focused and did what we had to do.”
The defense was the difference for ASU, as the team had 12 blocks and 56 digs. Four Sun Devils reached double digits in digs, lead by junior libero Sarah Johnson’s 17.
The UCLA attacks were rebuffed all night at the net by the duo of sophomore outside hitter Malia Marquardt and sophomore middle blocker Sonja Markanovich. Marquardt had eight blocking assists while Markanovich had six to frustrate the Bruins all night long.
Offensively, ASU was led by Reaves, who recorded 15 kills at a .250 clip. But the biggest factor on offense was sophomore setter Cat Highmark, who finished with 32 assists and made numerous acrobatic plays to get the ball in prime kill position for the outside hitters.
Watson, who has coached NCAA tournament games and big rivalry games in the past, said the sweep of UCLA ranks with of the best wins of his career.
“What made it special was the fact that for some of the kids on this team, they’ve never done that before,” Watson said. “Sarah Reaves and Paige [Mittelstaedt] and [senior setter] Marina [Mercer], those kids have been in this program for a long period of time have never done something like this before, and I think just to be a part of that makes this a wonderful evening.”
On Saturday night, ASU took on another highly ranked team from Los Angeles in USC, but this time, the Sun Devils couldn’t come away with the win.
Just as UCLA had a hard time breaking ASU’s defense the night before, ASU couldn’t quite get past the Women of Troy’s defense. USC senior libero Alli Hillgren recorded a match-high 24 digs, and sophomore outside hitter Alex Jupiter recorded 20.
“[There were] little, tiny things that I think ‘SC did extremely well in the latter part of all of the games, and that we’re still learning the importance of,” Watson said. “It’s frustrating and it is disappointing, but it’s all a part of where we’re at, and that attention to detail over the course of a match, it takes us time to learn how to do that.”
Reaves once again led ASU with 20 kills, while Mittelstaedt contributed 10.
Johnson recorded 23 digs to lead ASU defensively, and freshman middle blocker Erica Wilson had three total blocks.
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