Thunderous kills. Perfectly-placed aces. A vibrant team culture. The ASU women’s volleyball team is back with a bang. Combining a killer roster and a savvy new coach makes this team the best ASU has ever produced.
The team is 17-1, their best start since 2015. The hot start makes them just the second ASU women's volleyball team since 2000 to win at least 14 straight matches to begin the season. They are also ranked No. 19 in the American Volleyball Coaches Association (AVCA) rankings.
This success is a marked difference from ASU's combined 33-50 record over the past three years, partly due to newcomer head coach JJ Van Niel. Van Niel said he is eyeing the upcoming NCAA tournament in December but is taking it one match at a time, especially in conference play.
“I'm proud of our team for being 15-1, but to me, it's about how we do in the Pac-12,” Van Niel said. “How can we get through and win enough matches to make the tournament?”
The players view their strong start as a culmination of the effort they have put in on and off the court over the past few months.
“We worked our butts off in the gym, in the weight room… we had a really high team GPA, and I feel like it was well deserved," Shields said. “I'm not surprised with our success, and I'm proud of us.”
The start to the season not only showed the rest of the conference ASU's full potential but also proved it to the team.
“This serves as motivation now to keep it up and to prove ourselves,” senior outside hitter Marta Levinska said. “(We) just keep improving ourselves because I think a lot of people think that we don't deserve the hype.”
ASU is peaking as collegiate women’s volleyball is riding a wave of popularity nationally.
Earlier this year, the Nebraska women’s volleyball team broke the attendance record for a women’s sports event with 92,003 fans showing up to watch their season-opening match against University of Nebraska-Omaha.
The Sun Devils also sold out Mullett Arena in their first home game, which was a straight set victory over intrastate rival UA. Not only was the attendance of 4,816 fans the highest since 2015, it was also the third-most attended volleyball game in ASU history.
Despite one loss to No. 3 Stanford, the Sun Devils have dispatched their conference opponents since the start of Pac-12 play. Over the weekend, both UCLA and USC came to Tempe and left with a loss. On Sunday, the Sun Devils beat USC in front of a crowd of over 2,500 fans in Mullett Arena.
ASU's team is defined by mentality of constant improvement.
“We're going into the hardest part of the season, which means we have a bunch of tough matches in a row right now,” Van Niel said.
According to Shields, Van Niel went into the locker room and wrote down the team’s goals on a whiteboard after the Sun Devils' first loss of the season to Stanford. From Van Niel's perspective, a constructive attitude is key to dealing with hurdles to the team's success.
"You have to keep moving forward and work through those situations," Shields said. “It's not the losses that define a team (but) what you do after those losses, we just have to stick to those goals, and we have to continue to trust in one another.”
This is a testament to the team's resilience and its optimistic future prospects, exactly why this year's roster is so special.
“The sky's the limit,” Levinska said. “We can beat every team [and] we can play against any team.”
With women’s sports on the rise and viewership records being broken across the board, ASU’s dominance this season is more than just great play on the court. It's a reflection of how incredibly women's sports have been doing, and proves why they should be taken more seriously.
ASU will take on Stanford again on Oct. 29 at Mullett Arena. Students should fill up every seat to support the greatest volleyball team to ever wear maroon and gold.
Edited by Mia Osmonbekov, Walker Smith and Shane Brennan
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