The #3 Arizona State University water polo team will open the 2013 championship season this weekend as the squad takes on the nation's best at the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation Championships in Berkeley, Calif. In a competition that typically serves as the prelude to the NCAA Championships, this year's field features No. 1 Stanford, No. 2 USC, No. 3 ASU, No. 4 UCLA, No. 5 Cal and No. 9 San Jose State. Only three of those teams will advance to the NCAA Championships in Boston, Mass., beginning May 10. ASU enters this weekend as the No. 3 seed in the tournament and will take on SJSU on Friday at 12:45 p.m. PT at the Spieker Aquatics Center. A win against the Spartans would put ASU in the semifinals in a likely match against #2 USC.
The MPSF Championships serve as a selection tool for entrance into the NCAA Championships that will be hosted in Boston, Mass., May 10-12. The winner of the MPSF event earns an automatic berth into the national tournament while the remaining six teams in the league will be part of a pool of potential at-large selections, which are limited to just two this season (compared to three in years past). The MPSF is one of six qualifying conferences for the NCAA event, which is comprised of eight teams from all NCAA Divisions. The Sun Devils have finished no higher than fifth in the history of the competition, a school best set last year in Palo Alto. Any win in the tournament this weekend will set a new school record for single season wins for the Sun Devils.
SCOUTING THE OPPOSITION
The Sun Devils will take on San Jose State for the second time this season. ASU closed out the 2013 regular season against the Spartans at home two weekends ago, coming back from a 5-2 first quarter deficit and a 6-4 halftime score to post an 11-8 victory. SJSU enters the weekend with a 11-10 record overall and finished 1-4 in MPSF competition. The Spartans are paced by two underclassmen in frosh Rae Lekness and sophomore Tima Molnar, who have scored 49 and 46 goals this season, respectively. Molnar had four goals against the Sun Devils in the regular season finale, though ASU managed to hold Lekness scoreless.
LAST TIME OUT - SAN JOSE STATE
The third-ranked ASU water polo team wrapped up the 2013 regular season at home on Saturday with a 11-8 victory over #10 San Jose State. The win improved ASU to 25-5 on the season and 4-2 in MPSF competition, setting school records for season wins and for best MPSF regular season record. The Sun Devils came back from a 5-2 first-quarter deficit to pull out the victory on the heels of multiple goal games from seniors Alicia Brightwell and Shannon Haas as well as sophomore Ao Gao and Petra Pardi.
FOLLOW THE ACTION
Tickets are on sale for this weekend's 2013 MPSF Championships at Spieker Aquatics Complex. All-session passes are $30 for adults and $15 for seniors and kids high school age or younger. Tickets can be purchased at CalBears.com, by calling 1-800-GOBEARS or at the Cal Athletic Ticket Office inside Haas Pavilion. An All-Session pass is good for all nine games of the tournament. Fans who can't make the trip can follow the MPSF Twitter feed (@MPSF_WWaterPolo) for live updates throughout the weekend The tournaments first and third place games will also be streamed live beginning with the third-place game at 12:45 p.m. PT on Sunday with the Championship following at 2:30 p.m. Chris and Nathan Lundie of TakeItLive.com will provide the call and the stream can be viewed here: http://takeitlive.tv/livewaterpolo/?page_id=16
The Sun Devils have found themselves in a handful of games that have come down to the wire this season, but have always managed to find a way to come out on top. ASU is 5-0 this year in games decided by a goal following the exciting victory over #5 Cal on Pac-12 Networks. ASU has come out on top twice over Cal by a goal this year while also knocking off UCLA by a goal for the first time in program history earlier this year. ASU also had two tight games against UC Irvine, winning each by a goal - including a sudden victory game earlier this season. In head coach Todd Clapper's career, he is 27-20 in all games decided by a goal and 57-40 in all games decided by three goals or less.
FUTURE LOOKS BRIGHT
A year removed from the MPSF scoring title and First-Team All-America honors, senior Alicia Brightwell is starting to find her stroke at the right time for the Sun Devils. Brightwell scored 16 goals in five games at the UCSB Winter Invite to open the season and was named the MPSF Player of the Week for the performance, making it the fourth time in her career she had earn such honors. She has maintained that consistency throughout the season as she has scored in all but one game this season. Brightwell became the MPS regular season scoring champion for the second-straight season with her 76 goals this year and now has 151 in here career, which is currently fourth all-time at Arizona State despite having played just two seasons. Brightwell does more than just score goals, however, as her 25 assists this year are currently second on the team while her 73 steals on the year lead the squad and rank fourth in single-season history. Brightwell is six goals away from setting the school record for goals scored, a mark of 81 set by Addison McGrath in 2008 and one that is in serious jeopardy this weekend. Brightwell is a lock to finish her career with numbers that rank in seven of the six major statistical categories (single season goals, single season points, single season steals, career goals, career points and career steals). She will serious challenge the season and career assists top-10 lists this weekend (needed six and two respectively) as she looks to become the first Sun Devil in history to rank in the top-10 in all eight categories.
LUCKY NUMBER 7
Already a prominent notation in the ASU record-book following her seven-goal performance against San Diego State last season - a record she shares with ASU greats Addison McGrath, Alicia Brightwell and Lynlee Smith) - seniorShannon Haas is well on pace towards establishing herself as one of the top players in Arizona State history. Haas has 67 goals on the season - second on the team, second in the MPSF and fourth in ASU single-season history - and has taken sole possession of the second spot on ASU's all-time goals scored list. Only Addison McGrath's 237 goals have topped her 195. Haas scored the sudden-victory game winner against UC Irvine at the Triton Invitational earlier this year and is just one goal out of second all-time in ASU's record books in scoring. Additionally, Haas ranks fifth in ASU history with 209 career points (goals+assists). Haas currently leads the team in multi-goal games with 21, and has scored three or more in seven of the last 10 games.
KEEVE-IN' IT REAL
A redshirt freshman goalkeeper making her first career start at the DI level might make even the most stone-faced of coaches a bit nervous when it comes to opening a season. Turns out the Sun Devils had nothing to worry about in E.B. Keeve, who was phenomenal in her debut in the cage at the UCSB Winter Invite. Keeve stopped 66 shots while playing every minute in the team's effort at the UCSB Invite. Keeve had five games with double-digit saves while averaging 11 saves her game. Her 6.00 goals against average was stellar and she was phenomenal in allowing just four goals and posting 12 saves in a 5-4 victory over #6 UC Irvine. The performance garnered her MPSF Newcomer of the Week accolades and helped the Sun Devils to a sweep of the weekly honors following their performance in the opening weekend.
MORE ON E.B.
As if the season opener wasn't a good enough start for the freshmen, Keeve would go on to be exceptional at the Triton Invitational. Keeve had 53 saves over the course of the four games while allowing just 27 goals – good for an exceptional .663 save percentage. The youngster's biggest achievement was a monstrous 18-save game against No. 6 UC Irvine, which was good enough for the third-best single-game performance in school history. The effort earned Keeve her second Newcomer of the Week honor, making her the first player in school history to accomplish the feat. She'd go on to earn the honor yet again following ASU's victory over UCLA. Thus far this season, Keeve leads the conference in saves per game with 12.04 - a mark that, should it hold this weekend, would rank as the top tally in ASU history - and her 328 total saves are nearly 80 more than any other goalie in the league. She has had double-digit saves in all but eight games this season, though it should be noted that she didn't play the entire game in five of those. Her 328 saves rank her second on ASU's single-season saves list and Caylinn Wallace's 2008 school record of 346 is within sights with at least three games left to play.
GAO GETTING IT DONE
With two Olympiads and a year of Division I water polo under her belt, sophomore Gao Ao could be primed for a breakout sophomore campaign. The Beijing native was cool as the other side of the pillow in a tight game against UC Irvine, scoring two important goals in a 5-4 victory over the #6 Anteaters. Gao had a hat trick against Cal Baptist to open the season and her seven goals this year are currently fourth on the team. The two-meter defender leads the team this season with 40 assists to go with her 37 goals to give her 77 points, which is good for second on the team. Those 40 assists also rank Gao fifth in ASU's single-season history in the category. Gao has also been a stalwart on the defensive end, forcing 60 steals this season - a mark that ranks sixth in ASU history. Gao has forced seven turnovers in three different games this season.
PARDI IN THE USA
Three times on the 2012 season, Petra Pardi notched five goals in a game - the only freshman to ever accomplish the feat. In addition, only ASU great Lynlee Smith had ever scored five or more goals in a game on three separate occasions in one season before Pardi. Pardi's 30 goals last year ranked 10th in ASU freshmen history. Pardi has been solid in the 2013 season, as her 45 goals are currently third on the team behind Brightwell and Haas. Pardi has 67 points on the season, which currently ranks her fourth on the current Sun Devil roster. Pardi was the catalyst for ASU's huge come-from-behind victory to upset UCLA, scoring three goals in the second half - including the one that put ASU out in front to stay - as the team knocked off the Bruins for the first time in school history. Pardi was named the MPSF Athlete of the Week for the performance. Pardi also earned the game-winner for the Sun Devils in the victory at #5 Cal as she continues to show her clutch ability in big games. While she hasn't put up gaudy per-game goal tallies in 2013, she has remained incredibly consistent, scoring multiple goals in 16 contests this season.
Anna Kertes established herself as one of the top freshman in the nation with her play in 2012. Kertes' 47 goals were the second-most among freshmen in the conference and tied the second-highest tally in ASU history among freshmen. Her four first-half goals against No. 2 Stanford last season kept the Sun Devils in that game and the Hungarian notched two or more goals in 11 games last season. Kertes would eventually earn a spot on the MPSF All-Newcomer Team to conclude the season. Kertes showed a new facet to her game this year as she already has 26 assists on the season, far surpassing her total season tally of 12 last year. Kertes helped lead the comeback again UCLA, scoring the eventual game-winner as well as a late goal in the first half to keep ASU in the game. Kertes stepped up in the absence of Alicia Brightwell against #19 Hartwick, scoring four goals alongside four assists in her best game as a Sun Devil to date.
IN THE RANKINGS
In the latest national CWPA Coaches Poll, the Sun Devils remained third in the nation and have remained in the top-5 for almost the entirety of last season and the whole of the current campaign. The current placement is highest ranking for the Sun Devils in program history. ASU spent four weeks at the No. 4 position last year, easily it's longest streak at the spot in school history and finished the season ranked No. 5 in the country - the highest final ranking in school history.
DEFENSE WINS BALL GAMES
Defense will win you games in just about any sport and water polo is no exception. While the Sun Devils dominated their opponents on the offensive side last year - outscoring the opposition 376-211 on the year - it was a stifling defense that has helped pace that run. This season, ASU is 25-0 on the year when not allowing the opposition to score in double digits and has outscored the opposition 327-211 on the year. Additionally, the team has 353 steals on the season (compared to 250 turnovers) and is led by the 73 posted by Alicia Brightwell.
BUT OFFENSE DOESN'T HURT
For the biggest difference between last year's team and the previous ASU squad, one need look no further than the goals scored category. Through the entire 2011 season (MPSF Championships included), the Sun Devils notched just 247 goals. In 2012, ASU found the back of the net 376 times - easily good enough for the school record in the category. ASU is averaging a solid 10.90 goals per game this year thus far and has scored in double digits in 21 out of 30 games. The teams 327 goals are not quite on pace for match last year's tally, but will still go down as the second-highest goals scored amount by the time the season is over.
A LOOK BACK - 2012 SEASON
The 2012 campaign was a monumental year for the Sun Devil water polo team. The squad set a new school record with 25 wins on the season and the team's fifth-place finish at the MPSF Championships was tops in school history. The team tallied 376 goals on the year, also good for a new school record and the high-powered offense tallied 15 or more goals on nine separate occasions on the year. The team earned its first MPSF victory since 2008 while five different student-athletes scored 40 or more goals on the year for the first time in school history.
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