Arizona State is 1-0 for the first time in program history since being reinstated in 2017.
Since its inaugural debut after a 10-year hiatus that year, ASU rode an identical wave of losses in its first match of each new season due to tough scheduling and continuous roster turnover. That tide shifted on Thursday when the Sun Devils routed Grand Canyon 4-0 to start the 2020 campaign undefeated.
“We’ve never been 1-0,” senior Makey Rakotomalala said. “This is the first time we’ve been 1-0. We feel really great, we’re really confident on the court. The freshmen enjoyed it, that little bit of pressure.
“The coaches, the first thing they say is that this is the first time we’re 1-0. So it feels good.”
Despite the relative newness of the program, ASU (1-0, 0-0 Pac-12) has achieved back-to-back berths in the NCAA Championships. As a result, the Sun Devils find themselves ranked No. 25 in the first edition of the Oracle/ITA rankings as voted on by coaches. Four other Pac-12 programs are included in the top 25: No. 3 USC; No. 11 UCLA; No. 12 Stanford; No. 14 California.
“That’s the best of the best coaches around the country voting on who is going to be in the top group,” ASU coach Matt Hill said. “It says a lot (about the program). We’ve come a very long way in a short period of time to be in that group. Teams spend their careers trying to be in that group and we’ve had a lot of top players come here and invest in what we’re trying to do and our vision. It says we’re moving in the right direction.”
The sweep of GCU (0-3, 0-0 WAC) included the initial clinching of the doubles point to start off the match. Last season, ASU won 20 of 28 advantages in this category and is hoping to have similar success this season despite rolling out two new tandems.
While the team’s most consistent pair of juniors Andrea Bolla and Tim Ruehl — ranked No. 27 in the Oracle/ITA doubles rankings — fought from behind on the top court, it was those same two new pairings that achieved victories. The freshmen duo of Christian Lerby (a summer arrival) and George Stoupe (who arrived on campus in early January) stormed to a 6-0 bagel; while the Frenchmen Rakotomalala and freshman Tom LeBlanc (who also arrived mid-year) clinched the pivotal point with a 6-3 victory.
“Obviously it’s easier when you have someone speaking your language,” Rakotomalala said. “I really appreciate this connection.”
With senior ace Nathan Ponwith sidelined with a shoulder injury and junior Will Kirkman out with an apparent wrist issue (he was wearing a brace), ASU played four freshmen in singles. It was a crucial learning experience this early in the season and gave the coaches an opportunity to evaluate some of their new players in a live scenario.
“Right now it’s a learning process for us with the young guys,” Hill said. “Particularly the two January guys. I thought it was positive, I thought there were some really good things out there. There’s certainly a lot of things that we have to work on.”
It only took three singles contests before the match was called as ASU hit four points to clinch the overall victory. Despite expected performances from the team’s veterans, the freshmen held their own in their collegiate debuts.
Lerby convincingly won his match 6-1, 6-0 and was officially the first Sun Devil to win a singles bout this season. Needless to say his teammates were impressed with the result.
[Lerby’s performance] as a freshman, you don’t see that often,” Rakotomalala said. “Winning so easy in your first match.”
That sentiment was echoed by his coach.
“Christian is a fantastic player,” Hill said. “You’re going to hear about him a lot. He’s really going to do big things here. So I can put Christian anywhere in the lineup, I don’t care. I know he is going to compete with anybody.”
That confidence will be put to the test on Saturday when ASU faces a familiar opponent in No. 8 Texas Christian. Last season, the Sun Devils were bounced in the second round of the NCAA Championships to the Horned Frogs in their second loss to the program that year. ASU has not bested TCU in three total head-to-head matches since reinstatement in 2017.
“We’re excited, 1-0 for the first time and we’re excited about stepping on the court Saturday against a team we know really well and coaches we know really well and putting it out there,” Hill said. “It’s always a war when you play that squad.”
“We’re 1-0,” Rakotomalala emphasized. “Let’s see if we can be 2-0 for the first time too.”
No. 25 Arizona State def. GCU 4-0
- No. 27 Andrea Bolla/Tim Ruehl (ASU) vs. Can Franke/Lorenzo Fucile (GCU) — 4-5 (susp.)
- Makey Rakotomalala/Tom LeBlanc (ASU) def. Julian Mueller/Valetin Lang (GCU) — 6-3^
- Christian Lerby/George Stoupe (ASU) def. David Weber/Laurent Magne (GCU) —6-0
^Clinched doubles point
Order of finish: 3, 2^, 1 (susp.)
- No. 99 Makey Rakotomalala (ASU) def. Lorenzo Fucile (GCU) — 6-3, 6-1*
- Andrea Bolla (ASU) def. Can Franke (GCU) — 6-0, 6-3
- Christian Lerby (ASU) def. Freddie Grant (GCU) — 6-1, 6-0
- Tom LeBlanc (ASU) vs. Julian Mueller (GCU) — 2-6, 5-1 (susp.)
- George Stoupe (ASU) vs. David Weber (GCU) — 6-3, 5-1 (susp.)
- Jonah Wilson (ASU) vs. Laurent Magne (GCU) — 6-2, 5-5 (susp.)
*Clinched overall match
Order of finish: 3, 2, 1*, 4 (susp.), 5 (susp.), 6 (susp.)