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Volleyball fighting for postseason bid

The ASU volleyball team begins a brutal stretch to end the season this Friday when it travels down to Tucson to take on No. 18 UA.

The Sun Devils (13-12, 3-10 Pac-10) need two wins out of their final five matches in order to qualify for an NCAA Tournament berth, and a road victory over the Wildcats would be a great place to notch one of those wins.

UA defeated ASU 3-1 at Wells Fargo Arena earlier this season for the Wildcats’ first victory in Tempe since 2005. Now, ASU will try to return the favor and take one in Tucson.

For middle blocker Paige Mittelstaedt, the lone senior starter, getting revenge is a big factor.

“I don’t want to end this playing career having lost to UA the last time I played them,” Mittelstaedt said. “Of course, it’s an in-state rivalry, and we’re all pumped up to play, so I think we’re all going to bring it. It’s definitely a big revenge sort of thing. Especially getting beat [by UA] here, we want to beat them there.”

ASU has had some success in playing teams it had already lost to. ASU lost to both Washington State and Oregon State the first time they played, and the Sun Devils subsequently crushed both those teams the next time they met.

ASU coach Jason Watson feels more prepared this time around having played UA once before.

“Their lineup is a little more solidified in terms of who is playing where, so that certainly helps us in preparing for them,” Watson said. “I think we have a lot more information on a lot of their key players than we had coming into the last time we played them, so that’s helping our preparation.”

Another difference for ASU this time around is that their lineup is healthy and solidified.

Sophomore outside hitter Sofie Schlagintweit was battling shoulder fatigue when the two teams last played and was in a bit of a slump.

Watson moved her to the right outside hitter position two weeks ago, and the early results have been great.

Schlagintweit has recorded 38 kills in four matches since the move and re-established herself as a legitimate threat.

Additionally, true freshman outside hitter Ashley Kastl has earned a starting spot since the two teams last met and has excelled, recording 39 kills over her last four matches.

“We’re a much-improved team over last time when we played [UA] here,” Watson said. “With Sofie on the right, we’re playing a little bit better. She has a really nice presence out there.”

UA (17-7, 6-7 Pac-10) has earned a national ranking despite some poor statistical rankings.

The Wildcats are ninth in the conference in both assists (11.9 per set) and kills (13.28 per set) and are 10th in blocks (2.05 per set) and opponent hitting percentage (.217).

The only statistic in which they rank in the top half of the conference is service aces (1.24), where they rank fourth as a team.

The Wildcats are led by junior outside hitter Tiffany Owens, who ranks eighth in the conference with 3.67 kills per set and ninth in the conference in points per set with 3.99.

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