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Sun Devil water polo 2008 season at Michigan Invitational

January 22, 2008

TEMPE, Ariz. - The Arizona State University water polo team (0-0, 0-0 MPSF) opens its 2008 season this weekend on the road as the Sun Devils will travel to Ann Arbor, Mich., for the 2008 Michigan Invitational on Saturday and Sunday. The Sun Devils will play twice each day, starting with defending NCAA champion and fellow MPSF team UCLA at 8 a.m. EST on Saturday before facing the host Wolverines that night at 6:30 p.m. On Sunday, ASU will take on Indiana in a 10:20 a.m. start before closing the weekend against the UC San Diego Tritons at 1:50 p.m.

The Michigan Invitational field is made up of seven teams and includes (with final 2007 national ranking) No. 1 UCLA, No. 6 San Jose State, No. 12 Arizona State, No. 14 UC San Diego, No. 20 Indiana, Michigan and Colorado State.

Freshman Nikki Unbehaun has taken an interesting, not to mention long, road to her first collegiate water polo action. A native of Ann Arbor, Mich., and graduate of Pioneer High School, Unbehaun traveled approximately 2,022 miles to become a Sun Devil. In her first games with Arizona State, Unbehaun will compete with her teammates in her hometown as ASU competes in the Michigan Invitational this weekend in Ann Arbor.

Arizona State is opening its season at the Michigan Invitational for the second time after doing the same in 2004. The Sun Devils went 2-2 in the event, scoring a 20-2 victory over Marist and an 8-3 win over No. 14 UC San Diego while falling to No. 9 Indiana, 6-5 in overtime, and No. 10 Michigan, 8-5.

Arizona State posted a 14-14 overall record and went 5-7 in MPSF play during the 2007 season, closing out the year with a No. 12 national ranking. The Sun Devils, who finished eighth in the MPSF regular season and took 10th at the MPSF Championships in, were led by Addison McGrath, an honorable mention All-American and honorable mention All-MPSF selection, as the then-sophomore recorded a team-high 88 points. Rookie Amanda Stepp scored 31 goals (third on the team) and earned a place on the MPSF All-Freshman Team.

Looking at the final 2007 National Collegiate Water Polo Top 20 rankings, the Sun Devils will face 13 teams ranked in that poll, as well as one team from the Division III rankings. Playing in the toughest conference in the nation, the MPSF, the Sun Devils will take on league foes No. 1 UCLA, No. 2 Stanford, No. 3 USC, No. 4 Hawaii, No. 5 San Diego State, No. 6 San Jose State, No. 8 California, No. 9 UC Irvine, No. 13 Long Beach State, No. 15 CS Northridge and No. 18 UC Santa Barbara. ASU, who ended 2007 ranked No. 12, also will take on No. 14 UC San Diego and No. 20 Indiana, as well as the third-ranked team in Division II, Claremont-Mudd-Scripps Colleges.

The MPSF conducted a preseason poll of the 13 head coaches in the league last week with the Sun Devils receiving 56 points and the eighth-position in the poll, just three points behind seventh-ranked San Jose State. Defending champion UCLA was selected first and was followed in the Top 5 by USC, California and Stanford (tied for third) and Hawaii. The Sun Devils finished 10th in the MPSF Championships last year, which were held in Tempe.

In its six previous seasons, Arizona State has posted a 2-4 record in its first game of the year and is 1-5 in its first neutral site game of the year, just as its meeting with UCLA will be on Saturday. Last year, ASU fell to No. 1 USC, 13-4, in a neutral site game at the Stanford Invitational. Along with three neutral site games this weekend, the Sun Devils will play one road game (at Michigan), entering the game with a 2-4 record in their first road contests of a season following a 16-7 loss at No. 3 Stanford last year.

This season's opening game coming against the No. 1 team in the nation marks the second season in a row that the Sun Devils will open with the top-ranked team in the country after falling to No. 1 USC, 13-4, at the 2007 Stanford Invitational. The game with UCLA also will mark the fifth year in a row the Sun Devils will open a season with at Top 20 team, entering with a 1-3 record in the four previous games. Prior to the loss to USC last year, the Sun Devils opened the 2006 season with a 10-5 win at No. 20 Cal Baptist to snap a two-game opening game losing streak that included losses to No. 10 UC Santa Barbara, 8-7 in overtime, to open the 2005 season at the UCSD Invitational and a 6-5 overtime loss to No. 9 Indiana to open the 2004 season at the Michigan Invitational.

The 2008 Sun Devil roster features 18 players, including nine that return from the 2007 squad. The returning players feature three seniors in Traci Aparicio, Katy Lawlor and Caylinn Wallace, one junior in Addison McGrath and five sophomores in Jennifer Campo, Bonnie Miles, Kelly Phelps, Amanda Stepp and Kari Walsh.

The second half of the squad is comprised of nine freshmen; Lauren Hayes, Elizabeth McCoy, Kaitlin McCoy, Kaitlyn Morris, Candice Phillipe, Angela Salgado, Christy Stibbe, Nikki Unbehaun and Kristen Wagner.

The players are not the only new additions to the program this year as a pair of coaches join the Sun Devils in time for the 2008 season. Originally brought in as the program's graduate assistant coach, Ryan Castle was asked to take over the assistant coaching duties this season following the departure of Robbie Bova, who left to pursue other career options. Also joining the staff is Tyler Oakes, who will serve as a volunteer coach.

The Bruins have won all seven meetings in the series, including a 15-9 decision last year in Tempe. The Sun Devils are 0-3 all-time against UCLA in games played at neutral sites.

After dropping the first three games in the series, the Sun Devils have won the last three to even the series, including a pair of victories last year. In the first game, the Sun Devils scored an 8-7 win at the UC Irvine Invitational before taking a 5-4 decision in Tempe at the ASU Invitational. ASU is 0-1 all-time against the Wolverines in their home pool, falling 8-5 at the 2004 Michigan Invitational.

Arizona State is 1-3 all-time against Indiana with the one victory coming last year in an 18-7 defeat of the Hoosiers in the season-opening Stanford Invitational. The victory also was the first of the season last year for the Sun Devils after dropping their first three games of the tournament in Palo Alto, Calif.

The Sun Devils trail the Tritons, 3-2, in the all-time series and are 1-2 against UCSD in neutral site games. Arizona State won the last meeting, 9-8, in La Jolla, Calif., last year (April 21), giving the Sun Devils their first win on the road against the Tritons in two attempts.

Junior Addison McGrath enters her third season with the Sun Devils in striking distance of moving into the program's all-time Top 3 of the three scoring categories while also being close to several milestones in those categories. Entering with 93 goals, she needs just seven to become the third player to reach 100 and needs 24 to take over second place. McGrath is 10 assists from tying for third place on the career chart while needing just 15 points to bring her total to 159 and tie for third. With 64 points this season, McGrath would become only the second player with 200 career points, joining record-holder Ashley Bower, who leads with 236 points (116 goals and 115 assists).

Four other players also can move into and/or up the Top 10 lists this year. Amanda Stepp and Traci Aparicio need five and 12 goals, respectively, to reach 32 total and tie for 10th all-time while Katy Lawlor is 11 points from 82 total and a tie for 10th all-time. Defensively, goalie Caylinn Wallace, the only active player in the Top 10 of the career steals list at No. 4 with 142, needs 21 to move into second place and will tie for the career record with 46 this year.

The Sun Devils will return to the road next weekend for a trio of games in one day as they will take part in the Cal Baptist Invitational on February 2. The Sun Devils will open the day with an 8:30 a.m. game against Claremont-Mudd-Scripps Colleges before facing the host Lancers in a 12:30 p.m. contest in Riverside, Calif. The day concludes with ASU taking on Concordia (Calif.) at 2:00 p.m.