By Mary Kate Lau, Digital Communications Intern
While late September is a time most eyes in Tempe are focused solely on Sun Devil Stadium, there’s an electrifying team playing just next door that has folks buzzing.
No. 16 Arizona State Volleyball is about as close to unstoppable as you can get this year.
The team is 11-1 winning 35 of 38 sets on the year with their only loss and only dropped sets against No. 14 Illinois in a down-to-the-wire, five-set battle.
They swept the defending champs, No.2 Texas for their first win against the Longhorns- ever.
Sophomores Macey Gardner and Bianca Arellano were awarded consecutive Pac-12 weekly honors.
Gardner is ranked fourth in the country in kills per set. Senior Stephanie Preach leads the Pac-12 in digs per frame.
It has been Jason Watson’s best start since being named head coach in 2008.
And the stats go on and on.
While obliterating non-conference opponents is a great way to start the season, now comes crunch time.
Tuesday night, the team kicks off Pac-12 play and has their first TV game of the season. Oh, and it’s against Arizona, kicking off the Territorial Cup series between the storied rivals.
While the cup series comes with serious bragging rights, there’s more to it for this hungry team.
There’s a lot at stake; on top of tournament implications and home court to protect, the match against the Wildcats is something close to home, literally, for seven players on the roster.
Arellano, Preach, and Gardner along with Seniors Jenny Teslevich, Bethany Jorgenson, sophomore Andi Lowrance and freshman Genevieve Pirotte all come to Arizona State from the Phoenix area.
“I think its fun for them,” Watson said. “Most from out of state become part of the rivalry just because they're playing here. I think those that are from the state understand this rivalry better and it's one of the marquee rivalries in college athletics.”
“The territorial cup is a big game, especially my senior year,” Preach said. “We obviously want to beat them, and we want to be the number one school in the state. It’s huge to ASU and to the athletic department as well as our fans. It's a big game and we're excited.”
They are part of a recent crop of stellar volleyball players coming out of Arizona high schools.
“This recruiting footprint within the state is one that, for a long time, went untapped,” Watson said. “We feel a responsibility that the best players in the state of Arizona come to Arizona State. We’re becoming an attractive option for in-state recruits and we like that. Volleyball is well organized in the high schools and the junior club level in the state of Arizona so there is this growing number of athletes that can really compete at an extremely high level and that bodes well for the long-term success of the program.”
While maintaining laser-focus with his team is the biggest part of Watson’s game plan against Arizona, he’s also looking for a boost that can only be found in a loud home crowd.
“I think fans will be wonderfully surprised by the competitive nature of this group, by the style of volleyball in which they play. It's fast. They work hard. They compete. I think if people give us a chance and spend the evening with us, I think they’ll get hooked. They'll fall in love with this team.”
You can fall in love with ASU volleyball Tuesday night at 8 p.m. in Wells Fargo Arena or catch them on the Pac-12 Network.