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Sun Devils head to California desperate for conference win

The ASU volleyball team heads up to northern California this weekend, looking to snap a six-game losing streak and keep its NCAA Tournament hopes alive.

The Sun Devils (11-8, 1-6 Pac-10) will be taking on two of the nation’s premier teams in No. 6 Stanford (12-5, 5-2 Pac-10) and No. 15 Cal (10-7, 3-4 Pac-10).

Compounding the challenge of playing two highly-ranked opponents are ASU’s struggles this season. ASU is 2-3 overall and 0-2 in the Pac-10 in road matches this year, and one of those victories required a comeback from down 2-0.

However, the team has stressed that it needs to win games anywhere and everywhere.

“It’s always challenging going on the road because of travel, and they have the home-court advantage,” junior libero Sarah Johnson said. “Stanford and Cal are going to be really tough, and if we want to beat them, and we need to start beating teams, we’re just going to have to pull it together and play volleyball for a really long period of time. It’s going to be hard, but we really have to start taking these out-of-state games.”

Coming off of a home loss to UA last weekend, Johnson said the team has realized that they have to start playing as a team.

“We really need to focus on what our goals are, and so we basically have realized that we can’t win if we keep on doing what we’ve been doing,” Johnson said. “We have a lot better chemistry now, because we realized that we have to do this together as a team.”

ASU will take on Stanford on Friday night to open up the road trip.

Last year, Stanford advanced to the National Championship game before falling to Penn State. The Cardinal have won the last three Pac-10 titles and as a program have the most national titles, Final Four appearances, NCAA Tournament wins and national title game appearances than any program in the nation.

This year, the Cardinal is led by one of the most decorated players in the country in junior outside hitter Alix Klineman.

Klineman was a first-team All-American as both a freshman and sophomore and has earned every regional honor in existence. This year Klineman’s 3.86 kills per set is good for sixth in the conference.

Senior middle blocker Janet Okogbaa leads the defense with 1.29 blocks per set, good for third in the conference.

On Saturday afternoon, ASU takes on the Cal Golden Bears and arguably the best player in the country.

Senior outside hitter Hana Cutura, a two-time first-team All-American, leads the conference and is third in the nation with 4.81 kills per set and is first in the conference and fourth in the nation in points per set with 5.34.

In addition to Cutura, senior middle hitter Mindi Wiley is third in the conference in hitting percentage at .386 and is ninth in blocks per set with 1.02.

Cal has also been a national powerhouse recently, advancing to the Elite Eight last year and the Final Four in 2007.

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