The first words out of Arizona State volleyball coach Jason Watson’s mouth said it all.
No. 1-ranked USC was the best team he’s ever seen in college volleyball.
“Quite easily, that’s the best team we’ve seen,” Watson said, referring to this season, after the Trojans swept the No. 22 Sun Devils 25-17, 25-20, 25-15 Friday night in Tempe.
“We’ve seen Washington, Stanford and Texas, but in terms of creating pressure on you, it’s an impressive team. We knew that coming in. In the history of scouting reports, this is one of the better ones I put together, and you watch us play, we’re struggling to stay on task long enough in matches like this.”
ASU (13-6, 2-5 Pacific-12) looked confident early on, taking a 4-0 lead capped with a Stephanie Preach ace, but after a USC (17-1, 7-0) timeout, the Sun Devils found themselves trailing 5-4. After a Macey Gardner kill tied it at 9-9 and a timeout at 13-11, the Trojans recorded 12 of the next 18 points and Alexis Olgard blocked the winning point.
The second set did have five ties, as late as 16-16, before USC held on for the five-point advantage.
The third opened with USC up 7-1, but ASU came within 15-9. The Sun Devils saved two match points, and Olgard won it following one of the match’s longest rallys.
BreElle Bailey led the Sun Devils with 10 kills, Gardner recorded seven, Bianca Arellano had 24 assists, and Preach finished with 10 digs. For USC, Samantha Bricio knocked down five aces and 10 kills, Hannah Schraer also killed 10, Alice Pizzasegola had 16 assists, Hayley Crone passed 15, and Natalie Hagglund dug 10.
“Our team is based upon being patient,” Bailey said. “When things aren’t going our way, we tend to speed the game up a little more, and that doesn’t work for us.”
Having lost four consecutively, the Sun Devils have a huge game at 11 a.m. Sunday against UCLA at Wells Fargo Arena. The Bruins (10-7, 1-6), who were swept at Arizona (14-5, 4-3) Friday, are in a similar situation to ASU and fell out of the national rankings after dropping six of seven.
“It can be anyone’s day, this conference is so competitive,” Preach said. “We have lost five out of six, but we have a long way to go, we need to continue to be positive and use this as motivation. That was a tough loss, I felt great today, this morning, I felt we were in good spirits, good vibes, but we need to keep believing in each other.”
ASU is currently in ninth place in the conference, just ahead of Washington State and UCLA.
The only blemish on USC’s record was a 3-1 loss at San Diego Sept. 13, and the Trojans are at Arizona at 2:30 p.m. Sunday.
“Everybody says the conference is so deep and fun, but I’m trying to find where the fun is,” Watson said.