Predictable. That might be the word to best describe the Arizona State volleyball program.
Unfortunately, in this case, the description is not complimentary.
The Sun Devils finished with an overall record of 13-18 in 2008… 13-17 in 2009… and 13-18 again in 2010. That is, if nothing else, predictable.
They broke the mold last season, but not in a good way, wrapping up with a 9-22 mark, one of the fewest-win seasons in the past decade. Only the ’05 season was worse, when they went 8-20.
Their 5-17 conference mark left them in 10th place as the 2011-12 season closed out.
ASU’s last winning season was 2006, when it squeezed out a 16-15 record to crawl up over the .500 mark. There were only two other winning seasons since the beginning of the century: 2002 (15-12) and 2000 (18-12).
And what’s worse, there has been just one year in that time frame when they didn’t finish with a losing conference record. The Devils broke even in 2000 with a 9-9 Pac-12 mark.
A footnote to that last statistic: the Pac-12 is one of the toughest volleyball conferences in the country. Last year, six of the 12 teams were ranked in the nation’s top 25 all season long.
The bottom line… it’s been a long dry spell. And those fans who are still left have become accustomed to the same ol’, same ol’ year after year.
But wait. There may be a legitimate reason to think that things will improve with the coming season. An upward trend may even be ready to develop.
The incoming recruiting class has been ranked by PrepVolleyball.com as the 21st best in the country, and the seventh-best in the Pac-12. The conference rank doesn’t sound too impressive, but consider the strength of the teams in the Pac-12 (see paragraph above).
“With the accelerated nature of the recruiting process, it feels like we have waited forever for this class to arrive on campus,” said the program’s head coach, Jason Watson. “When we started the 2012 class, we knew it had the potential to be one of the better recruiting classes in the country.”
Watson took over the program in 2008, so all those 13-win seasons have come on his watch. It hasn’t been like the success he enjoyed during the previous three years as the women’s head coach at BYU, where he compiled an .804 winning percentage and took the Cougars to three straight NCAA Tournament appearances.
He has enjoyed some success at ASU. His 2009 squad started the season with an 11-3 record, the best start since 1992, and then upset three ranked opponents the next year, including No. 2 California and No. 5 USC.
Last season was a step back, but it did close out with a huge win against in-state rival Arizona. So the Devils come into the new season with a head wind.
The 2012 roster is laden with local and regional talent. Thirteen of the 17 players on this year’s squad hail from either Arizona (6) or California (7). Senior outside hitter Sarah Clause qualifies for both groups after graduating from Gilbert High School in Arizona and then playing two years for Long Beach State in California.
Only one of the four newcomers in the Class of 2012 is an in-state recruit. Macey Gardner, a 6’0″ outside hitter at Gilbert High School, was an All-America selection as senior and ranked No. 20 in the nation.
Two of the others are from, yep, California. Mercedes Binns is a 6’2″ middle blocker from South Pasadena who was ranked fifth on the PrepVolleyball list of top 50 juniors. Allison Palmer is a 5’9″ setter from Laguna who is listed as a Top 50 recruit by the same service, has played for the USA Volleyball Youth National Team, and was a First Team All-League selection on her high school team that won two league championships.
Rounding out the class is a Canadian. Whitney Follette is a 6’2″ outside hitter who helped her club 18U team to a gold medal. Watson says she “adds size, a huge block jump and the ability to hit a heavy ball.”
Despite the head coach’s optimism, the other Pac-12 coaches don’t seem to be impressed – despite the fact that the Devils are returning eight starters from last year. ASU was picked in the pre-season coaches’ poll to finish eighth in the conference.
Watson also had a top-25 recruiting class in 2010. Now he can add this one to the mix and see if that’s what it takes to get the program to becoming even more predictable – but in a winning way.
If not, there is another law of predictability that comes into play. That one involves the job security of losing coaches.
(Photo: ASU Athletics)