The No. 24 Arizona State women’s volleyball team dropped a heartbreaking five-set match to No. 11 UCLA Friday at Wells Fargo Arena (25-22, 22-25, 19-25, 28-26, 15-10) allowing an 18-13 lead in the fourth slip away. Jordan Anderson led the Bruins (22-5, 13-4 Pacific-12) with 24 kills, while the Sun Devils (19-9, 8-9) recorded 21 team blocks and are sitting on the bubble for the NCAA Tournament with three matches remaining.
“I look at tonight,” ASU coach Jason Watson said, “and we look at margins, and we talk about them being thin. We were plugging away, and we couldn’t do it, and we saw ourselves with a lost opportunity against a ranked team and a potential signature win. It further confirms me how thin margins can be.”
Trailing 21-12 in the first, ASU scored nine of the next 11 points to stage a comeback attempt. Five-consecutive points, ending with a Cassidy Pickrell kill led to a UCLA timeout at 23-21, and the Bruins’ Jennie Frager came out with the 24th point. After an ASU timeout, a service error from UCLA lessened the gap to two, before Haley Lawless, the 6-foot-3 junior from Tempe, put it away for the Bruins 25-22.
“I thought we were more composed late than early,” Watson said. “Maybe the emotion of the evening got away from us. Our passing did not give us opportunities to win Game One. That was the most disappointing thing for me- that our passing didn’t hold up at home.”
The second was much closer for the duration. Again down 17-15, the Sun Devils rallied to take a command of 21-17. Bruin coach Michael Sealy called a timeout, and his team returned within one, 22-21, before Reily Buechler tied it at 22-22. Jasmine Koonts returned the lead to the Sun Devils, Lexi MacLean served an ace, and BreElle Bailey and Koonts blocked the net for the final three points, 25-22.
The third was close again for the early portion before ASU broke away with a 23-17 lead on a Whitney Follette ace. Bailey blocked one over, Anderson scored for UCLA, Frager blocked Mercedes Binns, and ASU finished on a service error 25-19. A late lead in the fourth for ASU turned into a 23-23 tie, and after an error, Follette knotted it at 24-24. Lawless again put UCLA in the driver’s seat, Follette tied it, Australian Jessyka Ngauamo’s serve went wide for an ASU point, 6-foot-6 Bruin Claire Felix scored, and another wide shot forced the final game, 28-26.
Two big points tied the fifth at 8-8 for ASU, but kills from Felix and Anderson brought the Bruins back to a 13-9 lead. After the timeout, UCLA setter Zana Muno served an ace, Bailey scored for ASU, and Ngauamo slammed down the ultimate point.
“It’s always frustrating but volleyball is like that,” said Bailey, who led the Sun Devils with 14 kills. “It’s an emotional roller coaster, the team that is going to win is the one that handles that.”
The Sun Devils had been 2-1 in five-set matches and UCLA 1-1, with each team’s loss coming last Thursday (Nov. 12) at Colorado (ASU) and Oregon (UCLA). Although the final home game is at 1 p.m. Sunday versus No.1-ranked USC, the Sun Devils honored five seniors Friday, composing the most-decorated class in program history (Macey Gardner, Mercedes Binns, Whitney Follette, Bianca Arellano, and Andi Lowrance).
“The worst thing we could do was not build upon this senior class,” Watson said. “They have taken my job from career suicide to being one of the best jobs in the country. What’s special is they don’t feel entitled to anything, and that’s a trait that is being lost.”
Arellano recorded 19 assists Friday, while Kylie Pickrell had 18, Follette and Cassidy Pickrell each scored 11 kills, and Binns led the team with five blocks. Arellano also had 19 digs. For the Bruins, Muno collected 59 assists, while Felix and Lawless had 12 and 11 kills.
“We weren’t scoring points off our serve,” Arellano said,” and we wanted to open our middles more because they weren’t getting kills off the sets they were attempting. It (the five sets) would be better if we were more experienced, I think we handled it well, but it’s a new feeling for us, and it’s all about adapting.”
The Bruins are at No. 23 Arizona at noon Sunday. The Trojans (28-1, 16-1) defeated the Wildcats (17-12, 7-10) in four sets Friday at Tucson. The previous time ASU faced USC, it went to four sets Oct. 16 in Los Angeles.