Arizona State starts its first run in the NCAA volleyball tournament in four years today. The Sun Devils (15-14) are in Gainesville, Fla., where they will meet the College of Charleston (27-7).
ASU coach Brad Saindon is confident because “the level of competition we’ve faced is significantly stronger” than that of the Cougars, the champs of the Southern Colonial Athletic Conference.
ASU has faced six national seeds, and they defeated tournament-bound Notre Dame, Michigan State and Oregon.
Other teams in ASU’s bracket are Florida A&M (21-6) and homestanding Florida (28-2) , the No. 9 national seed. The Gators are the only ranked team in the bracket.
The Sun Devils are hoping to get big performances from a couple of players who have emerged lately, senior Nina Reeves, and redshirt freshman Marina Mercer.
In praising Reeves, Saindon said, “The energy and personality she plays with has spread through the rest of the team. She’s become a great player for us.
“She’s killing the ball out of the back row, which is rare.”
Mercer is the setter, which is much like having a freshman quarterback, Saindon says.
“She’s getting better and better at making great choices and being deceptive,” the ASU coach says of Mercer, who leads the team with 1,070 assists.
Charleston, like ASU, has a quick, smallish team, Saindon says.
“They’re not much bigger than we are. That’s rare for us.
“We’re fortunate to have a first-round match against a team like them.
“Every team will be great, but (the opening matchup) could have been much worse.”
NOTES: The Sun Devils are making the school’s 15th tournament appearance. . . . The Sun Devils have never faced any of the three teams in their bracket. . . . Three Devils have earned postseason honors from the Pac-10: Mercer was named to the all-freshman team; junior Sydney Donahue and senior Nicole Morton were both named All-Pac-10 honorable mention. . . . .
The Devils’ most recent trip to the tournament was in 2002, when they were sent to the Lincoln, Neb., regional. They defeated the University of Cincinnati 3-2 in the first round before being swept by No. 4 Nebraska. . . .
The three-year absence from tournament play ties the longest in school history. ASU’s best-ever NCAA finish came in both 1994 and 1995 when the team earned Sweet 16 appearances. Both of those teams were coached by Patti Snyder-Park, who took ASU to seven NCAA tournaments.
Arizona State vs. College of Charleston
What: NCAA volleyball tournament
When: 3 p.m. today
Where: Gainesville, Fla.