Perfect through its first 11 games, a win over archrival Arizona to open Pacific-12 play Thursday really put the smiles on the faces of the No. 7-ranked Arizona State volleyball team. In front of 5,500 at Wells Fargo Arena, including a student-section record of over 2,000, the Sun Devils (12-0, 1-0 conference) received 19 kills from Macey Gardner and 16 from Cassidy Pickrell to overcome the 27 from Kalei Mau of Arizona (10-3, 0-1) in four sets, 28-26, 12-25, 25-20, 25-21.
“These rivalry games are exhausting,” ASU coach Jason Watson said. “You’ve got to find a way to be good over time, and it took a long time for us to get going. I’m happy for our team, we got better as the match went on. You can schedule good starts, you can control everything that happens until conference. The real challenge now, is how long can we keep this going.”
The first set featured 11 ties and eight lead changes before the Sun Devils prevailed. ASU led for most of the early portion, before a 6-1 run gave Arizona a 17-16 lead. The Sun Devils led 22-19, but a Wildcat timeout produced four uninterrupted. ASU saved two game points and Arizona saved one, before Whitney Follette finally ended it. Mau already had 10 kills through one. ASU left the intensity in the first, however, as the Wildcats came back to roll 25-12, pouncing on an early commanding lead, with Mau adding eight more kills and the team attacking 84 percent.
“This team is able to overcome a lot of adversity, and to be able to pull out a win in four over a ranked team speaks really well of us,” Pickrell said. “We focused on our side and not worrying what they were going to do. We made sure we got the kills and we did well of managing the game.”
Out of the break, ASU was much more responsive in the third set. Gardner, who collected eight kills in the third, slammed one down at 20-16, Pickrell responded to consecutive errors with a major kill, Halli Amaro saved the first game point for the Cats, and the ball just swiveled over the net for the 25-20 win. ASU maintained the momentum in the fourth, taking a 10-6 lead, and a big block from Follette sent the lead to 16-11. Gardner blocked Mau at 21-17, Tyler Spriggs brought Arizona within 22-19 and 23-20, Pickrell slammed down point 24, and Follette and Bailey blocked the final point.
Spriggs finished with 16 kills and Penina Snuka added 59 assists for Arizona, while Bianca Arellano notched 39 assists for ASU, and Halle Harker had a match-high 16 digs. The 6-foot-1 junior Mau, who began her career with the Minnesota Gophers, only recorded 62 kills last season off the bench for the Wildcats.
“I felt like we never slowed her down, she was really good,” Coach Watson said of Mau. “So many terrific kids graduate from the Pac-12, and here’s this kid who didn’t play last year and who is ridiculously good.”
ASU will next host Oregon State at 1 p.m. Sunday, and the Wildcats host No. 18 Oregon at the same time. Prior to this game, Arizona’s losses were to Ohio State and Texas after starting 8-0.
“You come in and expect this normal crowd noise,” Gardner said of the crowd. “When it gets to that point with close sets, you get on the court and can’t hear each other. You have to know and trust our format and style. The crowd was great, we were feeding off each other.”