No. 20 ASU volleyball overcomes slow start, defeats Cal in four

Junior outside hitter Macey Gardner waits for a serve during the game against Colorado on November 2nd, 2014. (Photo by Daniel Kwon) Junior outside hitter Macey Gardner waits for a serve during the game against Colorado on November 2nd, 2014. (Photo by Daniel Kwon)

It’s not ideal, but No. 20 ASU volleyball will likely slide into the NCAA tournament if it keeps playing this way.

The Sun Devils (17-9, 7-7 Pac-12) split their seventh straight conference weekend Friday night, bouncing back from a loss to Stanford earlier this week by easily taking down California in four sets (26-28, 25-22, 26-24, 25-22) at Haas Pavilion in Berkeley, California.

“I think it’s getting old,” coach Jason Watson said, about splitting every weekend. “We’re getting tired of it. But right now we’ve split every road trip and that’s something last year that we didn’t do.”

Friday night was a battle between each squad’s star: Cal senior outside hitter Christina Higgins recorded 17 kills on 53 attempts (.113) but she was bested by ASU junior outside hitter Macey Gardner, who totaled 22 kills.

The Sun Devils likely still felt the physical and mental toll of a five-set marathon loss to No. 1 Stanford just two days prior, causing them to start sluggishly and drop a sloppy first set 28-26.

“We practiced once this week and these Wednesday/Friday matches don’t let you prepare as much,” Watson said. “When you go on the road, you don’t want to always have to keep closing the lead.”

But ASU, a far superior bunch to the hapless Golden Bears (8-15, 0-13), started to play like itself after the first frame, and it ran away with the next three sets behind the strong-swinging Gardner and her supporting cast.

Watson said the biggest shift between set one and the final three was at the service line.

“I thought we served better,” Watson said. Once we cleaned that up a little bit, then it abled us to kind of score some points from the service line and they weren’t able to side-out quite as readily.”

While 22 kills for Gardner are impressive, the Sun Devils might have fallen short if junior setter Bianca Arellano hadn’t spread the offense to Gardner’s equally reliable teammates. Junior middle blocker Mercedes Binns and sophomore outside hitter BreElle Bailey received 57 sets, four more than Gardner, and combined to connect on 21 of those chances.

The Sun Devils look to snap the trend of splitting each weekend when they face Oregon State and Oregon (both teams that are also in the middle of the conference) at home starting Thursday.

“Certainly this coming weekend against the Oregon schools is an opportunity for us at home ... Those are two matches for us that I think it would be nice to end this run of splitting,” Watson said.

Reach the reporter at bmargiot@asu.edu or follow him on Twitter @BenMargiott

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