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Unbeaten water polo heads to Stanford Invitational

February 05, 2009

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After a second consecutive unbeaten weekend, the No. 7 Arizona State University water polo team (6-0, 0-0 MPSF) puts its perfect record on the line this weekend at the highly competitive Stanford Invitational in Palo Alto, Calif. The Sun Devils will play No. 1 USC at 9:10 a.m. PT on Saturday, and then they will meet No. 18 Indiana at 3:15 p.m. later that day. They will complete pool play on Sunday when they face host No. 2 Stanford at 8 a.m. PT, and then they will meet a to-be-determined opponent in the tournament placement round later that afternoon.

The Stanford Invitational is always a prestigious and competitive tournament, and this year is no exception, with the field featuring seven Top 20 teams. Bracket A has No. 3 UCLA, No. 4 Hawai'i, No. 10 San Jose State and the U.S. Junior National Team while Bracket B has No. 1 USC, host No. 2 Stanford, No. 7 Arizona State and No. 18 Indiana. Each team will face the other three teams in its bracket and then play one crossover game. The winners of each bracket will play for the championship, the second-place teams for third, third-place teams for fifth and fourth-place teams for seventh. If Arizona State gets matched up with the U.S. Junior National Team in the tournament placement round, the game would be an exhibition and will not count toward the team's record or official statistics.

At 6-0 overall, the Sun Devils are off to the best start to a season in school history. ASU went 3-0 at the Michigan Invitational on January 24-25, and then posted another 3-0 mark last weekend, defeating No. 13 CS Northridge and No. 15 CS Bakersfield at the Cal Baptist Mini-Tournament on Saturday before beating No. 12 Hartwick at the UC Irvine Mini-Tournament on Sunday. The previous best season-opening win streak came in 2006, when the Sun Devils began the year with four consecutive wins. Last year's squad had the previous best six-game start at 5-1.

Arizona State's offense has been nearly unstoppable so far this season, as the Sun Devils have scored 78 goals in just six games. That is by far the most in program history for the first six games of a season, as the 2006 team had the previous high mark through six games with 57 goals. The Devils tied a single-game school record by scoring 20 goals in their season-opening win over Colorado State on January 24, and they have scored 10 or more goals in five of their first six games.

After earning First-Team All-American honors in 2008, Addison McGrath has started her senior season in grand fashion. Arizona State's career and single-season record holder in both goals and points, McGrath has 21 goals, nine assists and seven steals in just six games so far this season, and she has scored multiple goals in all six games. She was selected as the Mikasa MPSF Co-Player of the Week for the first week of the season, as she scored 13 goals, had five assists and added five steals in the team's three games at the season-opening Michigan Invitational. It was the third time in her career she earned the conference's player of the week honor, also doing so in April 2006 and in the final week of the regular season last year. In addition, McGrath's five-goal performance against No. 14 CS Northridge on January 24 was her 50th career multiple-goal game.

Sophomore Lynlee Smith, a New Zealand native who played in the 2005 World Championships and the 2005 and 2007 Junior Worlds, has had a brilliant start to her college career. She has scored goals in each of her first six career college games, including four-goal performances against Colorado State on January 24 and against No. 12 Hartwick on February 1. Smith is the team's second-leading scorer with 14 goals and 21 points.

Smith is not the only newcomer contributing for the Sun Devils in 2009. Freshman Mariam Salloum has started all six games and is third on the team with 15 points (seven goals and eight assists), while sophomore Sam Schubert has also played in all six games, scoring four goals and adding two assists. Freshman Kelsey White has played in three games and scored one goal, and freshman goalie Dana Harvey has 30 saves and has stopped 53 percent of the shots she has faced while playing in five games.

The Sun Devils are unbeaten in four games thus far against ranked opponents. They defeated No. 14 CS Northridge 10-9 on January 24, and then they beat three Top 20 foes last weekend. They beat No. 15 CS Bakersfield 10-7 and No. 13 CS Northridge 7-6 on January 31 before defeating No. 12 Hartwick 16-6 on February 1. ASU will play at least 10 more games this season against ranked teams, including No. 1 USC, No. 2 Stanford and No. 18 Indiana this weekend. The Devils will also face seven of the other nine teams in the top 10 in the nation (ASU is No. 7) in MPSF play, hosting No. 2 Stanford, No. 3 UCLA and No. 10 San Jose State while going on the road to meet No. 1 USC, No. 4 Hawai'i, No. 5 California and No. 5 San Diego State. ASU will also take on the top-ranked team in the Division III poll when they play at Pomona-Pitzer on March 13.

Addison McGrath has rewritten the Arizona State record books in her time on campus. She set single-season school records with her 81 goals and 123 points last season, and in the process she became the school's career leader in both categories. She currently has 195 goals and 289 points, and she will look to continue extending her hold on both records throughout the season. McGrath is also within striking distance of ASU's all-time assists record. She has 94 in her career, putting her in second place and just 25 behind Ashley Bower, who had 119 assists from 2004-2007. In addition, she has 112 career steals, placing her fifth on the school's career list in that category.

McGrath is not the only Sun Devil climbing the charts in the school's record books. Junior Kelly Phelps is currently seventh in Sun Devil history in both goals scored (83) and points (113), and she needs just six goals and 18 points to move into the top five in each category. In addition, junior Bonnie Miles sits fifth on the school's all-time list with 48 assists, leaving her just five behind fourth place.

Sophomores Nikki Unbehaun and Lauren Hayes have each played big parts in helping the Sun Devils get off to a hot start. Unbehaun has started all six games and she has scored nine goals, already nearly matching her freshman season total of 10 goals. Hayes, who is ninth on the school's all-time freshman list with 24 goals and 37 points in 2008, has played in all six games and scored five goals.

The Sun Devils have already had 10 instances of a player scoring three or more goals in a game this season. Senior Addison McGrath has four of them, as she has had three four-goal games and scored five goals in the team's victory over No. 14 CS Northridge on January 24. Sophomores Lynlee Smith and Nikki Unbehaun have each had two four-goal games, and junior Kelly Phelps and freshman Mariam Salloum have one hat trick apiece.

Sophomore Kaitlyn Morris and freshman Dana Harvey are combining to help the Sun Devils replace All-American goalie Caylinn Wallace this season. Wallace was a four-year starter for ASU, collecting a program-record 1,087 career saves and a single-season record 346 saves last year. Morris, who played in eight games last season as Wallace's backup, has seen action in three games (two starts) in 2009 and recorded 11 saves, while Harvey has collected 30 saves and stopped 53 percent of the shots she has faced while playing in five games (four starts).

The Sun Devils are 1-8 all-time against USC, but their only win in the series came at last year's Stanford Invitational. They defeated the then No. 2 Trojans 8-5 on Feb. 10, 2008, as Addison McGrath led the offense with four goals and Caylinn Wallace made 10 saves to help the Devils knock off their highest-ranked opponent in program history. They are 0-5 against USC in MPSF conference games, and they fell to the Trojans in last year's MPSF Championships. The teams will meet again later this season, as Arizona State travels to USC for an MPSF conference match-up on March 14.

ASU is 2-3 in the all-time series against Indiana, but they have won the last two games in the series. The Sun Devils defeated the Hoosiers 12-3 at last year's Michigan Invitational, and they also beat Indiana 18-7 at the 2007 Stanford Invitational.

Arizona State is 0-7 all-time against Stanford. The Cardinal is one of three teams that ASU has never beaten in three or more meetings (joining UCLA and Loyola Marymount). The Devils met Stanford twice last season, falling 14-4 at last year's Stanford Invitational and then dropping their MPSF conference match-up 12-6. The teams will meet again later this season, as Stanford comes to Tempe on March 7 to face ASU in an MPSF conference game.

Arizona State received 13 points and was ranked seventh in the 2009 MPSF preseason women's water polo coaches' poll. USC received 48 points and six of the eight first-place votes to take the top spot, followed by Stanford and four-time defending national champion UCLA, who each got one first-place vote. Hawai'i, California and San Diego State followed, and San Jose State received the eighth position. In 2008, the Sun Devils finished tied for fifth in the MPSF regular season, their highest finish since joining the conference in 2004.

The 2009 Sun Devils have 21 players on the roster, including 10 that return from last year's squad. The returning players feature just one senior, Addison McGrath, four juniors in Jennifer Campo, Bonnie Miles, Kelly Phelps and Kari Walsh, and five sophomores in Lauren Hayes, Kaitlyn Morris, Candice Phillippe, Christy Stibbe and Nikki Unbehaun.

There are 11 newcomers on the team this season, including six international players. Dana Harvey, Bella Morrison, Sam Schubert and Lynlee Smith all come to Tempe from New Zealand, Mariam Salloum hails from Germany and Kelsey White arrives from South Africa. In addition, freshmen Aimee Bedell, Terra Debold, Kaileigh Esson, Stephanie Funston and Ashley Mercerau round out the Arizona State roster.

Mark Lawrence joins the Sun Devil coaching staff this season as the volunteer assistant coach. A three-year player in the Australian National League, Lawrence comes to Tempe after spending a year as the men's assistant head coach at Ohlone Junior College in Fremont, Calif., where he played from 1999-2001.

The Sun Devils are off next weekend, and then they will head to Irvine, Calif., for the UC Irvine Invitational on February 21-22 before MPSF play the following week when No. 3 UCLA comes to Tempe on February 28.