You couldn’t watch the No. 10 Arizona State volleyball team try to topple the nation’s No. 1 program on Friday, taking the USC Trojans to four sets, without thinking of what could have been if the Sun Devils had Macey Gardner on the court. The 6’0″ outside hitter would certainly have made a difference in what could have been a season-defining upset – instead of a 3-1 defeat.
But Gardner wasn’t on the floor for Friday’s match, and won’t be the rest of the way this season.
The senior All-American, who led the Devils to a No. 5 national ranking earlier this season, suffered a torn ACL in her left knee just nine days ago in the second set of a match with Washington. That ranking was the highest ever recorded in the history of the Sun Devil program.
And just days before the weekend road trip through Washington, the former Arizona Big School Player of the Year from nearby Gilbert High School broke a 20-year-old ASU program record for most career kills, claiming her place in the record books in a match with California. She concludes her ASU career with 1,882 kills after posting 11 more after breaking the record.
Had she been able to finish out her senior year, that kills record might have been almost out of reach for those coming after her.
It was obvious long before she put on a maroon and gold uniform that she would become a difference-maker for the Sun Devils. She was considered one of the top prep volleyball players in the state while at Gilbert High, earning All-5A first-team honors during her sophomore, junior, and senior years.
Her performance in helping the Tigers to the state title put a huge exclamation mark on a senior year that included 407 kills. Gilbert lost the first two sets of that championship match with Horizon High, but the Tigers made one of the biggest comebacks in history behind Gardner’s match-high 32 kills.
When she arrived in Tempe, she picked up where her prep career left off. Gardner set freshman records for single-match kills (28), kills in a season (577), and average kills per game (4.40).
Over three-plus seasons, she had eight matches with 27 or more kills and tied a school record with 30 kills against rival Arizona during her junior season. And her 33 points last November against Washington State set another school record.
After Gardner’s 22 kills helped the Sun Devils beat No. 8 Stanford in an Oct. 2 game, the first win over the Cardinal in 15 years, she was named the AVCA national Player of the Week, becoming just the third player in program history to earn that honor.
This season began with 15 straight wins, which is the second-best start in program history. Losses to Washington and Washington State derailed the Sun Devil Express and now the loss of Gardner has head coach Jason Watson juggling his roster. A new offensive line-up debuted against USC, as Watson attempts to fill the huge void left by Gardner.
There were glimpses of success this weekend. After taking top-ranked USC to four sets, they turned around and tried to match up with No. 12 UCLA this afternoon. After a couple of disappointing sets, the Devils took the third and final set to 30-28 before the Bruins were able to wrap up the sweep.
Maybe they’re getting the hang of this new offense and starting to learn how to get along without their top offensive weapon. But it will never be the same.
And ASU’s promising season also won’t be the same without her.
(Photo: State Press/Daniel Kwon)