Last Friday, the No.18 Sun Devils split the season series against No.6 Oregon, taking the first game away but losing their first four-set match of the year at home 3-1 in a disappointing battle against the mighty Ducks.
ASU started its second-to-last home game playing nowhere near the expected level, dropping the first set 25-18 to the Ducks due to an underperforming defense and a slow-paced movement around the court.
"That one hurts," head coach JJ Van Niel said. "We had opportunities that we just didn't capitalize on. We came out too slow. It's just a frustrating one. That was probably our worst serving performances. I thought in the first set we were serving lollipops. We kind of live and die on the serve and pass game and we just didn't execute that."
Typically, ASU holds its own on the court regarding serving and passing with strong offensive performances. However, in this match-up, the Sun Devils tallied 12 serving errors, giving them a disadvantage through being stuck playing a comeback game.
The second set was also frustrating for the Sun Devils after falling early to the Ducks until the end when adrenaline kicked in, tying the score at 24-24.
Unfortunately, their hopes to tie the game died as quickly as they were gained after a call for ASU was overturned at a pivotal moment of the set. This resulted in a 2-0 lead for the Ducks, winning it 26-24.
After failing to return in the second set, ASU didn't miss another chance, batting back and staying alive, taking the third set by storm with a 25-10 score.
"I think our team's theme all year has been how we respond well to losses in sets," graduate student libero Mary Shroll said. "I don't think it's ever a question in our minds of giving up or anything like that. We knew our backs were against the walls, and in that third set, we just found our groove."
While the Sun Devils were able to extend their game another set, they lost another thrilling battle in a game of tug of war, tying eight times and keeping the scores close in the fourth set, ultimately dropping the lead and losing the game 25-23 against Oregon.
"We have to find our consistency," junior outside hitter Geli Cyr said. "That's the main thing right now. I don't think that they beat us, I think we beat ourselves. That's a good thing for us because we can work on that and we can go back to the gym and tweak little things. Grit is our main word and we have to just dig in and play it from here on out, like we know how."
Taking those words to heart, the Sun Devils could do precisely that, bouncing back and taking their final home game of the season and senior sendoff against Oregon State 3-1 on Sunday. This makes this their third-highest win total in the program's history, tied for the most conference wins in the program with 13.
"We're not afraid," senior setter Shannon Shields said. "Every team we play, I think we come in with that intention. If we do our jobs, if we play our game, we can take anybody, and that's kind of hard to have that mentality sometimes."
The Sun Devils now look forward to facing the Washington State Cougars, who are fourth in the Pac-12 with a 12-6 conference record and have a 22-7 record overall, ranking them in the top eleven in the nation.
Cougars' head coach and two-time Pac-12 coach of the year Jen Greeny is in her 12th year at Washington State. She will have to depend heavily on fifth-year middle blocker Magda Jehlárová, graduate student outside hitter Iman Isanovic, and fifth-year outside hitter Pia Timmer to carry their scoring while facing a strong ASU defense.
The Wildcats currently have an 8-21 overall record and hold the worst Pac-12 record at 3-15 with two games left in the season. This has been their first season under Arizona alum and first-time head coach Charita Stubbs since her hiring in January of 2023.
Arizona will have to rely on ending their season at home on a high note with their most producing players, senior outside hitter Sofia Maldonado Diaz, sophomore outside hitter Jordan Wilson, and senior outside hitter Jaelyn Hodge. The three must be on their A-game to beat a determined Sun Devil team.
Finishing off the home slate with a 9-1 record, ASU will spend its final week of the year on the road facing No. 11 Washington State on Wednesday and desert rival Arizona on Saturday. They hope to wrap up this season with a 27-5 winning record and two more wins against the Cougars and Wildcats.
With ASU nearing the end of this historic season, the Sun Devils are showing signs of fatigue. With possible NCAA Tournament chances right around the corner, the team must pick up the energy if they want a chance on the court under the bright lights.
Edited by Vinny DeAngelis, Sadie Buggle and Caera Learmonth.