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Volleyball to continue rebuilding process

Junior outside hitter Sarah Reaves makes a serve during the alumni game at Wells Fargo Arena Saturday evening.(Damien Maloney | The State Press)

A rebuilding process is never easy.

Losses mount and coaches preach patience. Oftentimes, the rebuilding process pays dividends. Other times, it bears no improvement.

Count the ASU volleyball team as a team expecting to see immediate improvement as the rebuilding process continues in 2009.

Last year’s team finished 13-18 overall with a 4-14 conference record, resulting in an eighth-place finish in the Pac-10.

This year, the Pac-10 preseason coaches’ poll picked the Sun Devils to finish eighth again, but the squad has higher aspirations.

Coach Jason Watson is entering his second year with the program, and he admitted he’s more prepared this time around.

“We just didn’t know as much [last year] as we know now,” Watson said.

“I think we have to train a little bit different, maintain a little bit of a higher standard week in and week out. We needed to establish that standard first and foremost, and we didn’t know what that was. Now we have a pretty good idea of where we need to be.”

Watson and the coaching staff had a busy offseason, reeling in the 25th-best recruiting class in the nation, according to the Web site

The team also welcomes two transfers and figures to see significant playing time in Malia Marquardt, an outside hitter from Brigham Young University, and Cat Highmark, a highly touted setter from Long Beach State.

“We have a great deal more depth at positions that we didn’t have a year ago, and we hope to be a team that can make some noise in the Pac-10 and put ourselves in position to make the NCAA tournament,” Watson said.

The players have a similar goal for this season as well.

“I feel like this year we have really good team chemistry, and I feel like we will upset some big teams because we’ve gotten so much stronger,” junior libero Sarah Johnson said. “Our main goal is to get to the NCAA tournament, and I think that we have great potential to do that this year.”

The team returns three starters in senior setter Marina Mercer, sophomore middle blocker Sonja Markanovich, and junior outside hitter Sarah Reaves. Reaves was fourth in the Pac-10 in kills per set last season, garnering All-Pac-10 Honorable Mention honors for the second consecutive year.

In addition to those three returning starters, senior Paige Mittelstaedt returns from an injury to provide veteran depth. She started nine games last season and is a stout defender who brings size and experience at middle blocker.

Offensively, Watson is emphasizing speed, particularly along the front row.

“Our offensive philosophy is based upon the premise of trying to beat people to the antennas, so speed is an issue for us,” he said. “We want to be fast. We want to be able to exploit some defensive gaps.”

In practice, Highmark has impressed the coaching staff with her speed and uncanny reaction time.

With Mercer and Highmark likely to see significant time at setter and Reaves guaranteed to be one of the outside hitters, Marquardt and sophomore Sofie Schlagintweit figure to battle for a chance to start at the other outside hitter position.

Johnson saw action in all 31 games last year as a libero and sophomore Ashley Kelty played in 26 games at that position as well.

Alumni Game Notes

The Sun Devils defeated the Alumni team, featuring former ASU volleyball players, in three games on Saturday night, 25-12, 25-19 and 25-17.

Reaves showcased an impressive vertical leap, consistently soaring high above the net and delivering powerful kills. Schlagintweit opened some eyes with her power on her kills and serves.

Additionally, the defense of Schlagintweit, Mittelstaedt and Marquardt along the front row was impressive, consistently blocking attacks and showing good timing on their defensive jumps.

Highmark, Mercer and sophomore Katie Crosby all played well and earned praise from Watson.

“We saw some return offensively on some of the things we’ve been working on,” Watson said. “Defensively, I think we have a little more work to do, but I was really pleased with all of our setters and what they did tonight.”

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