The year was 1995. Coolio’s “Gangsta’s Paradise” was the year's top song, and the ASU women’s volleyball team was in the Sweet 16. Little did the Sun Devils know it would take 27 seasons to return to that spot.
The 5th-seeded Sun Devils are heading to the Sweet 16 after sweeping through the first two rounds of the NCAA tournament last weekend in Utah, setting up a historic rematch against a conference rival.
ASU's weekend sweep against BYU sets up a match against a familiar foe in the Sweet 16: No. 1 seed Stanford. The Cardinal have historically dominated the Sun Devils and won all but five of their 40 all-time matches, but something's different this season. ASU has a fighting chance against Stanford after splitting the season series with an upset three-set win to hand the powerhouse its only conference loss on Oct. 29 in Mullett Arena.
Stanford rebounded from the sweep to go on a 10-game winning streak to get back into title contention. Stanford unsurprisingly beat Fresno State in a first-round sweep but needed five sets to hold off Houston last weekend. Heading into the all-Pac-12 matchup, the Cardinal are 28-3 and the greatest threat to the Sun Devils' Cinderella season.
ASU marched into the first-round matchup against Georgia with a 26-6 record in head coach JJ Van Niel’s first season. So far, he’s turned a mediocre program that hasn’t had a winning record for three seasons into one of the best teams in the country. Van Niel’s Sun Devils have dominated opponents night in and night out, swept ranked opponents, and rarely dropped a set.
The Sun Devils stayed true to form against the Bulldogs to tally their 19th sweep of the season. ASU’s win also marked the program’s first tournament victory since 2014.
The team’s commanding win was thanks to its serve-receive, passing and a plethora of Bulldog service errors. The Sun Devils willed their way to a contested first-set win before dominating the second set with a 9-0 scoring run. Georgia fought back in the third set, but it was too little, too late to upset the dominant Devils.
Senior opposite hitter Marta Levinska led the Sun Devils with 17 kills and had double-digit digs for her 18th straight match. Backing her up, junior outside hitter Geli Cyr set a new ASU tournament record by hitting .529 while scoring 10 kills and seven digs.
The next day, ASU swept No. 4 seed BYU on their home court in Provo, Utah. The Cougars made things interesting in each set, as all three were decided by five points or fewer. Yet, ASU maintained upper hand and executed serves and passes well enough to keep BYU at arm's length.
The third set was the most competitive, with nine ties and three lead changes. ASU battled through the set before pulling away at 23-17. Down but not out, the Cougars capitalized on attack errors by senior outside hitter Roberta Rabelo to claw their way back to just three down. BYU finally ran out of luck as Levinska recorded a kill to secure the sweep.
Levinska put the team on her back all game by leading them in kills, service aces and digs. She also broke Cyr’s day-old hitting feat with her own .533 clip. Cyr may have lost her record, but she made the most of her night by contributing nine kills and eight digs.
ASU will travel to California to face Stanford on Dec. 7. First serve is set for 9:30 p.m. MST.
Edited by Vinny DeAngelis, Walker Smith and Shane Brennan