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'Spike Night' women's volleyball preview: Arizona State at No. 22 USC

Oct 5, 2016
Sun Devil Athletics / John McGillen

Who: Arizona State at No. 22 USC

When: Wednesday, Oct. 5, at 7 p.m. PT/8 p.m. MT on Pac-12 Networks, with Anne Marie Anderson and Tammy Blackburn on the call.

The Trojans make their second appearance of the season on Spike Night, welcoming in an Arizona State squad still searching for its first win in conference play.

The Story so Far: Arizona State (7-9 Overall, 0-4 Pac-12)

What a difference a year makes. On Oct. 5, 2015, Arizona State was 15-0 and the No. 5 team in the country, fresh off a four-set win over No. 8 Stanford the week before. And then all-time kills leader Macey Gardner tore her ACL, ending her collegiate career. The Sun Devils sputtered into the NCAA Tournament, losing 13 of their final 17 matches after bowing out to Florida State in the first round.

Heading into 2016, Arizona State has had to replace three of its top four attackers and top three blockers (in terms of total blocks) from a year ago, not to mention undergoing a regime change with first-year head coach Stevie Mussie now in charge. While Arizona State did beat then-No. 17 Santa Clara in five sets to get to 7-3 (although the Broncos’ starting setter did not play that day), the Sun Devils have dropped six in a row since and are coming off a 3-0 defeat at the hands of Oregon State, a team that went just 4-16 in Pac-12 play a year ago.

On the bright side, coach Mussie’s group has shown some fight – in addition to beating top-20 Santa Clara, the Sun Devils took both Utah and Oregon to five sets, and both the Utes and Ducks were ranked in last week’s poll (Utah has since dropped out, Oregon has moved up to No. 20 from 21st). Arizona State might be one of only two winless-in-conference Pac-12 teams remaining, but don’t expect it to completely roll over at the Galen Center Wednesday night (USC also lost three home matches to unranked teams already this season).

The Story so Far: No. 22 USC (10-5 Overall, 2-2 Pac-12)

As we discussed in our first Spike Night preview, it has been a very up-and-down year for the Trojans. Mick Haley’s bunch reeled off eight straight wins after an 0-3 loss, only to back that up by dropping its first two conference matches (granted, UCLA and Washington aren’t the easiest of foes). So naturally, after dropping two straight at home, the Trojans went on the road and defeated ranked Colorado (3-1) and Utah (3-2) squads to get back to .500 in conference play.

Now would be the time for the Trojans to make a push towards the top of the Pac-12 ladder – on paper, this might be the easiest weekend for USC with the Arizona schools at home, and the Trojans have six of their next eight matches at the Galen Center. That said, all five of USC’s losses have come in Troy, so nothing is given in this wild and wacky world of women’s volleyball.

Three Players to Watch Arizona State

  • #13 Halle Harker (5’5" junior, libero) Forcing Doug Tammaro’s crew to furiously re-write the ASU women’s volleyball record books, Harker’s eight digs in the loss to Oregon State moved her into 15th at Arizona State all-time with 1,176 career digs. She needs 45 more to crack the top 10, so at her current rate of 3.62 per set, that will be about 12 or 13 sets from now (three or four matches).
  • #22 Cassidy Pickrell (6’0" senior, outside hitter) The team’s 2015 kills leader is back at it again in 2016, pacing the Sun Devils with 183 kills (2.95 per set). The former UC Irvine Anteater surpassed 1,000 career kills earlier this season but is coming off a subpar performance against Oregon State (four kills, .000 hitting percentage), so you can bet she’ll be raring to go Wednesday night.
  • #14 Lexi MacLean (6’2" sophomore, oustide hitter) Back in the lineup last weekend against the Oregon schools after missing three matches, MacLean led the team in kills each of the last two matches with 13 against Oregon and 10 against Oregon State.

Three Players to Watch USC

  • #16 Khalia Lanier (6’2" freshman, outside hitter) The No. 1 incoming freshman in the nation continues to do work, most recently going for 19 kills and 15 digs in a five-setter against Utah. Already with seven double-doubles this season, Lanier is fourth in the conference in kills per set (3.76) and eighth in the Pac-12 with 0.27 service aces per set.
  • #14 Reni Meyer-Whalley (5’5" junior, setter) In the revolving door that has been the USC setter position, with three players averaging more than five assists per set, Meyer-Whalley has statistically the most effective setter as of late, leading the team in assists in each of the last two matches and pacing the team with 5.96 helpers per set.
  • #10 Taylor Whittingham (5’8" libero, senior) Back from a leg injury that kept her out the first week of conference play, Whittingham has 47 digs over her two matches combined (5.22 per set over that stretch) and is second in the Pac-12 overall with 4.83 digs per set.

Three Notes to Know

  1. USC is one win away from 1,000 Currently at 999 victories as a program, the Trojans could become the 17th NCAA Division I program to reach 1,000 wins with a win over Arizona State Wednesday night. In a bit of an interesting twist, Arizona State got its 600th win as a program against USC (Oct. 15, 2010).
  2. The Sun Devils are road warriors Arizona State played its first home matches of the season when it hosted the Oregon schools last weekend. The Sun Devils traveled 9,454 miles to play the first 14 matches of the season, and the trek doesn’t get a whole lot lighter in the coming weeks – Arizona State is beginning a four-match road swing against the California schools in the Pac-12, so 18 of the first 20 matches of the season for Arizona State will be away from Tempe. Including the last three matches of 2015, the Sun Devils played 17 straight matches on the road and 21 of 23 through the end of this California road swing.
  3. Around the Conference of Champions Watch out for the Cougs – Washington State started off the conference slate by beating three straight top-10 teams. Now at 4-0 in Pac-12 play, the Cougars are one of two teams undefeated in the conference alongside Oregon and are ranked 10th in the nation (their No. 17 ranking the week before was their first ranking since 2009). The Cougs have a tough schedule coming up, playing six of their next eight on the road, so that unblemished conference record will certainly be tested.