ASU volleyball stuns, sweeps No. 2 Texas in Illini Classic

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                </div>Jason Watson just pulled another rabbit out of  his hat.  His Arizona State volleyball team just rocked the college landscape and turned the national rankings on their ear by beating […]<!-- AddThis Sharing Buttons below -->
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Jason Watson just pulled another rabbit out of  his hat.  His Arizona State volleyball team just rocked the college landscape and turned the national rankings on their ear by beating No. 2-ranked Texas.

Watson was also the one pulling the strings back in 2010 when his Sun Devils beat then-No. 2 California, 3-2, for one of the biggest wins in program history, second only to the 1985 win over then-No. 1 Stanford.  He took over the ASU program in 2008.

This time, the Devils dominated the defending national champion that was ranked No. 1 in the country going into the 2013 season.  The Longhorns dropped to No. 2 after a stunning loss to Hawaii in the first game of the season.

After losing to unranked ASU yesterday, the Horns are likely to experience a free-fall in the next edition of the NCAA rankings.  The Devils swept their Texas foes 3-0, the first time they’ve beaten the Longhorns in five meetings that date back to 1981, and completely turned the tables following their last encounter in 2005, when Texas won that one 3-0.

The game was the finale of the State Farm Classic, held at the University of Illinois in Champagne, and came on the heels of a demoralizing five-set loss to No. 14 Illinois earlier in the day for the Devils’ first defeat of the season.

Despite playing against an Illinois team that had already knocked off three ranked opponents this season, the Devils were in that match all the way.  And that’s what made the loss so tough to take.

ASU jumped out to a 3-0 start in the first set and held on for a 25-23 victory when freshman Kizzy (given name: McKenzie) Willey and senior Macey Gardner closed the door with kills for the final points.  The second set went through 11 ties before a couple of service errors by ASU enabled the Illini to even it up, 1-1.  Illinois stormed to a 14-4 lead in the third set and coasted to a 25-17 win, but the Devils came back to tie the match 2-2 by recording a season-high 30 block assists, led by sophomore middle blocker Mercedes Binns with nine.

But, despite an ealry ASU lead at 7-4, Illinois came back in the deciding set, the first five-set match for ASU this season.  A 3-0 run ended the Devils’ hopes for that upset of a ranked opponent.

Sophomore setter Bianca Arellano posted her second double-double of the season with 40 assists and 20 digs, while Stephanie Preach, the senior libero, led the defensive effort with 27 digs on the day.  Both Arellano and Preach, who is 28th in the country in digs and averaging 5.17 per set, are locals from Xavier Prep in Phoenix

It didn’t take long for the Devils to recover in time to get back up again for the Texas game later in the day. However, their coach is beginning to expect that from this group.

“I continue to be amazed at the resilience and desire this team shows toward competition,” Watson said after the Texas victory.  “We have a lot of work to do this season, but right now we are all extremely proud of the work we have done to date.”

Gardner and Willey continued their strong tournament play as the focus shifted to Texas, helping guide the Devils to what will likely be their most memorable match of the season.  Gardner, a sophomore outside hitter from Gilbert High School who ranked second in the country in points per game coming into the Classic with 6.39 points per set, recorded her first double-double of the season against the Longhorns with a team-high 17 kills and 10 digs.  Willey enjoyed her second straight 10-kill game.

ASU jumped out to an early lead in the first set and used a 7-2 run late to put the Horns away for the 25-18 win. The second set was a little tougher, as the teams worked through 16 ties and were knotted at 22-22 before a pair of kills by Gardner set up the final point, which she delivered with one last kill, her eighth of the set, for the 25-23 victory.

Texas took the lead twice during the final set, but kills by Gardner, Willey, Arellano, and 6’4″  freshman outside hitter BreElle Bailey, combined with two straight errors by the Longhorns coming down the stretch, gave the Devils the 25-21 win – and a place of honor in program history.

(Photo: ASU Athletics)