ASU volleyball unbeaten after El Paso tourney

EL PASO, Texas — Arizona State volleyball posted a 3-0 record — making the program’s best start since 2006 — en route to winning the El Paso Sports Commission Invitational on Saturday night.

The Sun Devils topped UTEP 3-1 (23-25, 25-23, 26-24, 25-21) in the tournament finale. Macey Gardner and Stephanie Preach were named to the All-Tournament Team, and senior Erica Wilson garnered Tournament Most Valuable Player.

ASU’s leaders in kills for the tournament were Erica Wilson (55) and Macey Gardner (44). Allison Palmer started her career with 123 assists as a mainstay at setter, and Wilson posted an impressive 11 service aces during the tournament.

“I am sure proud of Erica,” ASU coach Jason Watson said. “We got a lot better this weekend. We have a lot of work ahead of us but we are beginning to figure stuff out and we are becoming a pretty united team.”

ASU 3, UTEP 1 (23-25, 25-23, 26-24, 25-21)

With a six-hour break after its first match of the day, ASU looked fresh in the early goings, jumping out to a 5-2 lead. Whitney Follette got things started for the first two points on an easy kill from Allison Palmer followed by her third service ace of the weekend.

After the Miners chipped away at ASU’s five point lead, 12-7, Alexis Pinson answered with three-straight kills to make it a 17-14 ballgame. UTEP did not back away however, as the Miners tied the game five times since that point, ultimately taking the set 25-23.

The second set saw both squads trading points, but ASU’s first lead came from an ace by Stephanie Preach at 5-4. From there, the Sun Devils trailed after the 13-13 mark until a couple of long rallies and four kills from Wilson gave Arizona State set point. ASU took tied it at 1-1 on a UTEP attack error, 25-23.

A nip-and-tuck affair was also in store for the third set, through the better half of the frame. Though the Sun Devils tied it three times at 15, 16 and 17-all, it was not until a pivotal block assist at 18-18 by Palmer and Pinson that ASU gained momentum. What ensued was two Miner timeouts sandwiched between three block assists by the Devils leading up to 21-18.

Intense points followed when UTEP tied it at 24-each but the Sun Devils were unwilling to give up. Macey Gardner clocked a clutch set-point kill and Wilson sealed the outcome with an ace, 25-23 to take the 2-1 lead.

Wilson was a powerhouse in the fourth, connecting on four kills from Palmer before forcing UTEP into a timeout at 12-8. ASU posted a lead of 16-10 after a key block by Follette and Nora Tuioti-Mariner caused the Miners to burn another timeout. From there the Devils played strong ball while UTEP trailed, 24-15 but managed a seven-point run to close the gap at 24-21 while ASU sat at match point. Pinson closed the set and match with the final kill for the 25-21 victory.

ASU 3, Fresno State 0 (25-22, 25-11, 25-19)

The Sun Devils mostly battled from behind in the first set, until late in the frame at 20-20 after a timeout by the Bulldogs. ASU then went on a run to take the set 25-22. In the second, Wilson held her serve through eight points, pushing a 13-3 Devil lead.

ASU hit at a .600 clip in the frame to log the set 25-11. Arizona State garnered its first sweep of the year by clinching the third set 25-19. Gardner led the team with 14 kills, with Wilson close behind at 13 and Palmer logging 33 assists.

“I felt like our personality, the way we like to play, was present this morning,” said head coach Jason Watson. “Each opportunity we get to compete gets us better at realizing our potential.”

Arizona State was the first to get on the board, but after the 5-all point, it would not be until the 20-20 mark that the Sun Devils could sustain a lead. Follette’s kill at 8-11 kept ASU within reach but the Bulldogs opened their lead by four, 16-12, to force head coach Jason Watson to call a timeout.

A service ace by Jenny Teslevich at 17-18, followed by an ace by Gardner at 19-20, gave ASU momentum to take the lead at 21-20 after Wilson put up consecutive kills. The Sun Devils closed the set in exciting fashion, with a kill by Gardner followed by a block assist from Palmer and Pinson for a final set score of 25-22.

The second set was lights out as the Sun Devils maintained control through the entirety, winning the frame 25-11. Hitting at a .600 attack percentage aided the effort as the Bulldogs struggled with a negative hitting percentage. In the frame, Wilson tallied six of her 13 kills and four of her five aces she had on the day.

In the third, ASU put up a lead at 5-4 and never looked back, extending to its largest cushion of seven at 18-11. Getting to that point, the Sun Devils went on a spurt with a kill from Palmer, an ace from Wilson and a block assist from Tuioti-Mariner and Pinson.
Gardner came up big in the home stretch, logging four of the last six kills after 19-16, including match point to help ASU secure the sweep with a 25-19 win.