By Lucas Robbins, SDA Digital Communications Intern
The Sun Devil volleyball team ended their 2013 campaign 19-14 with half of their wins coming from conference play. Though they fell to BYU in the opening round of the NCAA tournament in December (their first back-to-back appearance in the tournament in over 10 years), the Sun Devils had a new challenge to look forward to in the beginning of ASU’s inaugural sand volleyball season.
Spring 2014 was the first time ASU has competed in sand volleyball. The sport is currently viewed as an emerging sport by the NCAA. As both indoor and sand players, the transition from the hardwood to the sand has not been easy for the Sun Devils.
Sophomore Macey Garnder described the switch to sand as more mental because the partner dynamic is very different from that of a team, so players must improve their skills across the board.
“In sand you use every small muscle and indoor you use more of the bigger muscles,” said Garnder. “Sand just makes you work a little harder.”
The Sand Devils finished with a record of 6-5 closing out the season with a win over in-state rival Arizona and a sweep of Boise State.
Prior to last week’s final two home game stand, the Devils were returning from the Pac-12 Invitational, where they claimed their first win over rival Arizona in Santa Monica, California. For senior Bethany Jorgensen, that win against the Wildcats was the high-point of the season at the time.
“It was close matches for everybody,” said Jorgensen. “It just showed that we improved and we finally beat them, so it was cool. Hopefully we can stick to our game plan that worked against them last time and just beat them on our home court.”
The Devils did just that last Thursday when they beat the Wildcats 3-2 in a thriller and finished the season series with Arizona 2-1. The wins clinched a Territorial Cup point for ASU, and the Sun Devils went on to clinch the entire series later that weekend.
ASU had only one home match at the PERA Club (their new facility) before last week’s matches against Arizona and Boise State, when they fell in to Nebraska 3-2 in late March. A crowd of over 300 Sun Devil supporters came out to the new facility and brought an electric atmosphere to support the sand squad against the Huskers.
“It was really awesome. Having all the fans there when you’re playing really does make a difference,” said sophomore Andi Lowrance. “It brings out your energy as a player so much more. In sand the fans are so much closer, people are sitting on the sand with you, where indoor there’s a barrier.”
Lowrance and her partner, junior Nora Tuioti-Mariner, are the fifth seed of the Sun Devils’ pairings, and ended with the best record at 9-4.
“We were really excited when we found out we were going to be partners,” said Lowrance, a Phoenix native who transferred from Seattle University. “We have good chemistry and similar personalities. I guess we’re the goofy ones on the team!”
Head Coach Jason Watson was methodical when selecting the pairings for his team and the players went though a competitive process explained Jorgensen, who still has one year of eligibility for sand volleyball. Her and her partner, sophomore Bianca Arellano, are the top seeded paring.
“I was really happy Bianca was my partner because we’d played sand a little together before,” Jorgensen said. “She’s a player who does all the skills really well, I think we’ve done well together.”
Gardner and her partner, sophomore Whitney Follette, make up the second seeded pair and finished with the next best record on the team at 8-5.
“We’re best friends,” said Gardner. “It’s interesting the way we had to work though things, it was more conflict negation. But for the most part we were trying to help each other out.”
The Sun Devils will continue work and improve both indoor and outdoor, especially the ability to adapt and transfer their skills. Gardner said the team is focused on the process of succeeding in the post-season and the important thing is to learn along the way.
“The best part about playing sand volleyball is when there’s a really long rally, and it’s going back-and-forth, and you finally get that point, it’s the best feeling,” Jorgensen said. “Also you get tan."