ASU volleyball showing consistency in the national rankings

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                </div>  The Arizona State women’s volleyball team may be catching another big wave, similar to the one that carried them to some very successful years during the mid-90’s. A No. […]<!-- AddThis Sharing Buttons below -->
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The Arizona State women’s volleyball team may be catching another big wave, similar to the one that carried them to some very successful years during the mid-90’s.

A No. 25 ranking in the American Volleyball Coaches Association preseason poll released last week makes it the second consecutive season the Sun Devils have been nationally-ranked.  That hasn’t happened since the years between 1992 and 1997 when the program appeared in 56 of the 70 polls during that period.

This is also the first time since 1996 the Devils will be going into their opening game as a ranked team.

It has been a slow, but steady climb back to the top since Jason Watson took over as head coach in 2008.  After a few seasons of struggle, the program had a break-out year in 2012 when they won 20 games and made it back into the post-season.  A recruiting class that was ranked No. 25 in the country helped him turn the corner.

The Devils turned out to be an over-achieving group last season after being picked in the preseason to finish eighth in the Pac-12 standings.  They jumped out to a 7-0 start, the best since 1997, and won 10 of their first 12 games on the way to a 19-14 record.

By season’s end they were a bubble team hoping to get back to the post-season.  A stunning win in September over then-No. 2 Texas, combined with a streak of six wins out of the final regular-season games got them an invitation to the NCAA tourney.

They were eliminated in the first round, just as they had been in 2012, this time by BYU in a battle that went five sets.

But the coaches have given them more props this year with their No. 4 pick in the conference behind Standford, USC, and Washington (in that order). The 4th-place nod is the highest pre-season ranking for the Devils since a similar vote from the coaches in 1999.

ASU was one of just two teams who finished the 2013 season unranked, but given a spot in the top 25 to start the next season.  The other school was Creighton.

However, the Sun Devils worked hard last season to earn that distinction.  They were ranked for five consecutive weeks and climbed to No. 15 at one time.

They also return a squad that has seven upper-classmen, led by 6’0″ outside hitter Macey Gardner who was named to the Preseason All-Pac 12 Team for the second straight year.  The junior from Gilbert High School posted 506 kills last season, which ranked second in the conference, and was also ranked fourth in the Pac-12 in points with 537.5.

She made a huge impact when she stepped into college ball, setting ASU freshman records for total kills (577), kills per set (4.4), and kills in a match (28).  And in just two years, she has become the 16th player to surpass the 1,000-kill mark, and with 1.083 kills going into her junior season, she will soon be moving up that list.

Going into the 2014 season, this team has one thing they want to change from last season, and one they want to avoid.

Last year’s team ended the regular season on a 2-1 loss to rival Arizona.  That needs to be corrected.

And they want to avoid the fate suffered by the last ASU team to be ranked going into the season, the 1996 squad that was pegged at No. 21 nationally.

That team fell out of the rankings by the end of the second week.

(Photo: GCU Athletics)