It didn’t take a crystal ball to predict what’s happening in the Arizona State volleyball program. The Sun Devils are 1-8 on the season and haven’t won a match since their opener with Washington four weeks ago.
The truly perplexing thing about that first win is that the Sun Devils upset the No. 8-ranked Huskies in three straight sets — and they did it on the road in Seattle. It was ASU’s first win against a top-10 team since they knocked off No. 8 Stanford in 2015.
But it was the Devils’ last win, followed by seven straight losses. It was like they got their big win early, and then that team disappeared.
However, there’s no mystery as to why this team is struggling. Head coach Sanya Tomasevic lost four of her top five point scorers from last season and is trying to develop a talented, but inexperienced, large group of newcomers. Iman Isanovic is the top returning scorer, but the sophomore was not a starter last season.
The 2021 signing class is considered the best since 2015, but the roster is dominated by freshmen and sophomores, which leaves this squad woefully lacking in veteran leadership. And, to make matters worse, due to the shortened season, this year’s schedule did not include preseason matches, which is where the early learning takes place. All 22 games are being played against Pac-12 opponents.
This would have been a different team altogether if the fall season had been played as usual, instead of having to delay the start due to the COVID surge. Her top outside hitters, Andrea Mitrovic and Claire Kovensky, would have been on board in the fall, but left the program for different reasons before the new schedule could begin. Mitrovic graduated in December with plans to play professional, and Kovensky decided to skip her final season to focusing on graduating and being ready to enter nursing school.
To be fair, there has been a thin line between victory and defeat these last seven games. The Devils dropped close one-set losses in four matches and battled Oregon State to five sets in each of two matches last week, before taking on No. 15 UCLA yesterday.
ASU hung with the Bruins for most of the way (25-22, 25-17, 22-25, 25-22) and took the 15th ranked team in the country to four sets. But a young team and a roster depleted by injuries couldn’t pull off the kind of upset that was possible in the early Washington win.
“Due to some injuries, we lost Megan (Beedie), this is literally a team of freshmen and sophomores right now just trying to go out there and get some Pac-12 experience,” Tomasevic explained after the match. Beedie, the team’s 6’1″ middle blocker, is the lone senior on the team.
“We’re returning this whole team for another three years, and we talk about it as a group,” Tomasevic points out. “This is an investment in our future. We’re going to continue to get better.”
But right now, that future seems far away. This team first has to find a way to stay motivated for 13 more games.