It was a short-lived undefeated campaign for No. 25 Arizona State. One that lasted just one match and two days before succumbing to its first loss of the season against No. 8 Texas Christian on Saturday.
Without the services of senior ace Nathan Ponwith (shoulder), junior Tim Ruehl (undisclosed) and junior Will Kirkman (wrist), the Sun Devils (1-1, 0-0 Pac-12) again sent out a youthful lineup that featured four freshmen. And it showed in their 5-2 defeat.
“Today we lost to a better team than us,” junior Andrea Bolla said. “No doubt about it. I thought that the players we’re missing could’ve helped us a lot. They’re a big part of the team. I don’t see a lot of difference in the level between us and them. Just experience.”
The absences were notable right from the start.
“They’re a top 10 team and we’ve got two of our top guys out,” ASU coach Matt Hill said. “So for us it’s a really good learning piece for our freshmen to get to play those guys and see what the level is like, where they fall against them and what adjustments need to be made moving forward to not compete with them, but to get over the hump on it.”
Ruehl participated in doubles alongside Bolla — although he did not compete in singles for the second straight match — and the No. 27 duo battled to a 6-6 tiebreak and a 2-0 advantage against the No. 29 junior/freshman duo Alastair Gray and Jacob Fearnley before having the match abandoned due to TCU wins on the other two courts. With those victories, the Horned Frogs clinched the doubles point and a 1-0 advantage heading into singles play.
Shorthanded, the Sun Devils played four freshmen across six courts. It was a tall order against a perennial top 10 TCU (1-0, 0-0, Big 12) squad that immediately took advantage of the experience gap.
“There were times in games where we were really dialed in and playing well enough to win,” Hill said. “But we weren’t doing that consistently enough. So that catches up to you against a team like that and players like that.
“We’ve got to do a better job of that, particularly with the older guys. We had two older guys out there and four freshmen. Those older guys have to lead a little bit more in terms of keeping the intensity and energy of the group up and showing the guys how to work together.”
After ASU’s lone ranked singles player, senior No. 99 Makey Rakotomalala, fell on court one to junior No. 51 Alastair Gray, the Horned Frogs attacked freshmen Christian Lerby, Jonah Wilson and Tom LeBlanc to storm to a 5-0 lead — the match was technically clinched at 4-0 — but both teams’ coaches decided to play out the remaining matches.
One of the lone bright spots for ASU was freshman George Stoupe, who achieved his first win as a Sun Devil 7-6, 6-0 over junior Eduardo Roldan. It was an impressive feat for the New Zealander who has only just recently enrolled at ASU and been on campus for only two weeks.
“It gave me a lot of confidence,” Stoupe said. “Obviously it would have been better if the team could get a win. I was happy that I played well, got the win, but at the end of the day it would have been better if we could’ve won as a team.”
Bolla irked out ASU’s only other point in the match in come-from-behind fashion after dropping the first set and winning the second and the tiebreaker.
“He responded really well,” Hill said. “He stepped up and really got back to his game. It just continues to grow his confidence. He’s a piece of the puzzle that we know can perform and win against any of the top programs. He’s a key piece for us.”
Despite the losing result, there were a lot of positives drawn from the competitiveness of the younger players and the insurmountable knowledge gained by simply playing in matches of this caliber.
“It’s unbelievable for them to step on the court against those guys,” Hill said. “It’s invaluable. It’s a win in that standpoint for sure.”
Nonetheless, for the players who have been a part of the program since its reinstatement from a 10-year absence in 2017, the loss represents yet another to a TCU squad that ASU can’t seem to figure out. The Sun Devils are now 0-4 against the Horned Frogs since their return as a program.
“It’s kind of frustrating,” Bolla said. “We know we can beat those teams. They’re really good players, but so are we. I can’t really tell you what we need in those matches, but I just know that this wasn’t enough. But look, it’s just the start of the season. It’s a long season. We’ll be fine.”
No. 8 TCU def. No. 25 Arizona State 5-2
- No. 27 Andrea Bolla/Tim Ruehl (ASU) vs. No. 29 Alastair Gray/Jacob Fearnley (TCU) — 6-6(2-0) (susp.)
- Sander Jong/Tadeas Paroulek (TCU) def. Makey Rakotomalala/Tom LeBlanc (ASU) — 6-4
- Bertus Kruger/Luc Fomba (TCU) def. Christian Lerby/George Stoupe (ASU) — 7-5^
^Clinched doubles point
Order of finish: 2, 3^, 1 (susp.)
- No. 51 Alastair Gray (TCU) def. No. 99 Makey Rakotomalala (ASU) — 6-3, 6-0
- Andrea Bolla (ASU) def. Tadeas Paroulek (TCU) — 4-6, 6-2, 1-0(10-5)
- No. 100 Luc Fomba (TCU) def. Christian Lerby (ASU) — 6-2, 6-4
- No. 119 Jacob Fearnley (TCU) def. Tom LeBlanc (ASU) — 6-1, 6-3
- Sander Jong (TCU) def. Jonah Wilson (ASU) — 6-1, 6-3*
- George Stoupe (ASU) def. Eduardo Roldan (TCU) — 7-6, 6-0
*Clinched overall match
Order of finish: 1, 3, 5*, 4, 6, 2