The Arizona State women’s volleyball team packed up last weekend and headed out for a three-day swing through Washington. When they returned, no one recognized them.
When the Sun Devils left Tempe they were one of only three undefeated Division I teams in the country, ranked No. 5 in the polls, and were enjoying a 15-0 start that ranks second-best in program history and their best conference start in 29 years.
On top of that, they were coming off a huge confidence-building victory over No. 8 Stanford, snapping a 28-game losing streak to the Cardinal that began in September of 2000. And then they beat the California Golden Bears to mark the first time since 1993 that an ASU team was able to sweep both Bay Area schools in the same weekend.
All that meant little to the Washington schools, however. The Devils came back dragging their pitch fork behind them after losing to both No. 6 Washington and the unranked Washington State Cougars.
Worse yet, the matches weren’t even that competitive. The Devils lost to the Huskies on Friday in straight sets, 6-25, 26-28, 16-25 (the score on that first set is not a misprint). Then on Sunday, the Cougars took them out again in three straight, 25-14, 27-17, 25-21.
The only obvious clue to what might have happened to derail the Sun Devil express came in Friday’s match.
ASU’s outside hitter Macey Gardner left the Washington match in the second set with an injury to her left leg. The Devils were leading 20-16 when the injury occurred, but had to play the remainder of the match without their leading attacker, and then take on the Cougars without her. The injury to Gardner was supposed to be evaluated upon the team’s return to Arizona.
It’s especially disturbing since her teammates have grown accustomed to her being on the floor. Before she had to sit out these four sets over the weekend, Gardner had missed just six throughout her entire college career.
The senior from Gilbert High School has been a driving force in transforming the ASU program since arriving in Tempe in 2012 for her freshman season. Since then she has eclipsed the 1,000 mark in career assists as a sophomore and just re-wrote the school record books for kills. Her 13th kill in the match with California moved her into first place all-time with 1,872 kills, erasing the old record of 1,871 set 20 years ago.
Teammate Cassidy Pickrell picked up the baton when Gardner went down and the junior outside hitter led the Sun Devils in both of the Washington matches, posting 10 kills Friday and 12 on Sunday. Against WSU, senior Bianca Arellano pitched in by recording her seventh double-double of the season with 23 assists and 10 digs.
But it’s just not the same team without Gardner. The three-time Pac-12 All-Conference selection will have a few more days to rest up before the team hits the road again this weekend, this time to California to take on Pac-12 foes USC and UCLA.
As was the case in Washington, success on the trip to the Sunshine State may also hinge on whether Gardner is on the floor. And the Devils will really need her on this trip. USC is the No. 1 team in the country and the Bruins not far behind at No. 12.
The Washington trip will seem like a walk in the park compared to running the gauntlet in Cali.
(Photo: ASU Athletics)