It started out so promising.
The ASU volleyball team began the 2009 season with its best start since 1992 and a dominating sweep of UCLA, who finished the regular season ranked ninth in the country.
An 11-2 record and the victory over a marquee opponent signaled that the rebuilding process was ahead of schedule, that ASU volleyball was a new force to be reckoned with in the Pac-10.
The team knew Pac-10 play would be difficult, but needing only four wins in its final 17 games to qualify for the tournament seemed probable enough.
Instead, the team went 2-15 over those final seventeen games to finish 13-17 and 3-15 in the Pac-10, tied for last place in the conference.
Despite the losing mark, ASU coach Jason Watson said this year’s version of the team was much better than the one that finished with a 4-14 conference mark in 2008.
“I thought we played at a much higher level for much longer,” Watson said. “Eight teams in the Pac-10 made the NCAA Tournament — I think that made for a much more difficult conference season.”
The team had a lot of positive statistics but also a number of negative ones, underscoring the squad’s ability to hang with tough teams before being undermined by certain weaknesses.
Junior outside hitter Sarah Reaves had a banner year, finishing fifth in the conference and 21st in the nation with 4.33 kills per set.
She also finished fourth in the conference and 15th in the nation with 4.95 points per set. She also showcased herself as a two-way standout, finishing second on the team with 286 digs to record a team-leading 15 double-doubles.
Senior middle blocker Paige Mittelstaedt finished second in the conference and 34th in the nation with 1.26 blocks per set, while finishing third on the team in kills with 168 to close out her ASU career with her best season.
The young outside hitter duo of sophomore Sofie Schlagintweit and Ashley Kastl matured as the season went on and showcased a wide variety of skills.
They finished second and third on the team in kills per set with 2.59 and 2.44, respectively, and provided crucial secondary scoring. Schlagintweit finished third in the conference in service aces with 0.32 per set.
Even with those positives, it was ultimately the offense’s struggles that doomed ASU’s season.
The team finished last in the Pac-10 in kills and assists and ninth in hitting percentage. The only positive team offensive statistic was its third-place finish in service aces at 1.36 per set.
The defense was stout but wore down as the season wore on, as ASU finished fifth in opponents hitting percentage (.204) and seventh in digs (14.64 per set) in the conference.
Junior libero Sarah Johnson assumed the role of the vocal leader of the team and finished sixth in the conference in digs per set with 4.03.
“We had some chances this year; certainly the loss to SMU, the losses up 2-1 to Oregon State and Washington State,” Watson said. “If we had swung those the other way, we would’ve put ourselves on the bubble. That’s the next step for us.”
With only one starter graduating in senior middle blocker Paige Mittelstaedt, ASU returns a solid young core led by outside hitters Reaves, Kastl and Schlagintweit and sophomore setter Cat Highmark who demonstrated an ability to hang with top teams all year long.
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