TEMPE – Still wearing their long volleyball socks from racing off the court to catch the bus, the Arizona State volleyball team dashed through the airport to the farthest possible gate in a last-second attempt to catch the flight home.
This was the final flight of a five-week stretch of road games since ASU last played in Desert Financial Arena on August 27.
Since that match, the Sun Devils crisscrossed the country, traveling to the Georgia Tech Invitational, the Baylor Invitational, the Red Raider Classic at Texas Tech, Arizona, Colorado, Oregon and Oregon State. It added up to 13 consecutive matches away from home.
“Catching up with life was tough,” coach Sanja Tomasevic said. “This whole week is lined up with appointments for my daughter and me, and my friends said they forgot what I looked like.”
The Sun Devils returned home each week between weekend matches, but it was hard for the players to find a rhythm or to enjoy the few nights in their own dorms or apartments.
“You can’t really go grocery shopping or anything like that,” senior libero Annika Larson-Nummer said. “It always felt like we got here and then we had to go.”
The Devils went 6-7 during the stretch on the road, highlighted by a win in Tucson against Arizona for the first time since 2019. The victory earned ASU a half point towards the Territorial Cup, a yearlong athletic competition between the two universities.
“That was a big confidence boost for us,” junior middle blocker Claire Jeter said. “Beating them at their own place was really exciting.”
ASU sits at 8-8 overall and 2-2 in Pac-12 play, with UCLA visiting Tempe Friday, followed by a home match against USC Sunday. It’s been an up-and-down start to the season for the Sun Devils, summed up by their recent road trip to the Oregon schools.
Oregon, ranked No. 16, swept the Sept. 30 match in three sets, holding ASU to under 18 points in each one. The Ducks outscored the Devils 61-32 overall. Tomasevic believes Oregon is the best team ASU has seen so far this season, but there was still a lot to be said after the loss.
“Sometimes our effort was a question,” Tomasevic said. “We decided when we wanted to go hard and when we didn’t in practice, and of course that correlates to the games. We had a really honest meeting after the Oregon match in which players spoke for most of it, just making sure that our effort is never in question.”
The team responded well two days later against Oregon State, knocking off the Beavers in five sets to complete the five weeks of road games. However, there was one last hurdle to clear.
ASU had a 4:55 p.m. flight out of Portland, which is about 90 minutes from the Oregon State campus in Corvallis.
The team sprinted off the court after shaking hands with the Beavers, and got to the bus where navigation showed an airport arrival time of about 4:30.
Tomasevic called Southwest to make the airline aware of the situation, and when the team arrived at the airport TSA opened two new lanes just for the Sun Devils. Of course, the gate was the farthest one from security.
“We were still in our long socks and jerseys running to the plane,” Larson-Nummer said. “We got [applause] from the plane as we boarded.”
Despite taking off a few minutes late, the plane landed in Phoenix a couple minutes early, marking the start of a welcome 18-day stretch at home for the Sun Devils.
“That night I got home and crashed,” Tomasevic said. “The adrenaline was rushing for five sets and then the whole time on the bus ride making phone calls and figuring out if we would make (the flight).”
When ASU hits the road to play Washington and Washington State later this month, the Sun Devils will be ready for it.
“I think [the past five weeks] prepared us for Pac-12 play because sometimes it can get daunting even going on the road every other week,” Larson-Nummer said. “Now it’s just going to be a piece of cake for us.”
But first, the Sun Devils will enjoy some home cooking for two weeks, hosting UCLA and USC this weekend followed by Cal and Stanford next weekend.
“I think they’re going to come in thinking it’s not a hard game,” Jeter said, referring to the California schools. “I’m really excited to shut them down and make a name for ourselves in the Pac-12.”