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Water polo to open MPSF play against UCLA

February 26, 2009

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After going 2-2 and finishing sixth in the UC Irvine Invitational, the No. 6 Arizona State University water polo team (9-5, 0-0 MPSF) will open conference play on Saturday against the four-time defending national champions, No. 3 UCLA (11-3, 2-0 MPSF). The game will also be the home opener for the Sun Devils in 2009.

On the strength of two victories over top 10 teams last week, Arizona State moved up to the No. 6 position in this week's Varsity Top 20 poll. The Sun Devils defeated then No. 5 California and No. 7 UC Davis at last weekend's UC Irvine Invitational, vaulting them up four spots from No. 10 to No. 6 in the poll. That is the highest ranking this year's team has achieved, with the previous best being No. 7 in both the January 28 and February 4 polls.

The Sun Devils have already played 12 games against ranked opponents this season, including the last 11 in a row, and they are 7-5 in those contests. They defeated two top-10 teams at the UC Irvine Invitational, beating No. 7 UC Davis 9-6 and No. 5 California 11-10. ASU will play at least seven more games this season against top 10 teams (ASU is No. 10) in MPSF play, beginning with this weekend's match-up against No. 3 UCLA. The Sun Devils will also host No. 1 Stanford and No. 8 San Jose State while going on the road to meet No. 2 USC, No. 4 Hawai'i, No. 5 San Diego State and No. 7 California. ASU will also take on the top-ranked team in the Division III poll when they play at Pomona-Pitzer on March 13.

Arizona State has been scoring goals at a record pace so far this season. The Sun Devils have scored 149 goals on the season, an average of 10.64 per game. That is the most in program history for the first 14 games of a season, as the 2006 team had the previous high mark through 14 games with 132 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 eight or more goals in 11 of their 14 games.

After earning First-Team All-American honors in 2008, Addison McGrath has started her senior season in grand fashion. She has 38 goals, 15 assists and 17 steals so far this season, and she has scored a goal in 13 of the team's 14 games this season, with 11 multiple-goal games. McGrath 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 Nikki Unbehaun has played a big role in her second year as a Sun Devil. She currently ranks third on the team with 17 goals, already far surpassing her freshman season total of 10. Unbehaun has three four-goal games this year, coming in victories over Bucknell on January 25, No. 12 Hartwick on February 1 and No. 5 California on February 22. The four goals against the Golden Bears helped the Sun Devils to their first win of the season over a top-five team and their first comeback victory when trailing after three quarters.

Sophomore Lynlee Smith has had a brilliant start to her collegiate career. The New Zealand native who played in the 2005 World Championships and the 2005 and 2007 Junior World Championships has made an immediate impact for the Sun Devils. She has scored goals in 12 of her first 14 career college games, including four-goal performances against Colorado State on January 24, against No. 12 Hartwick on February 1 and against No. 7 UC Davis on February 21, and she had a hat trick at No. 2 Stanford on February 8. Smith is currently second on the team with 28 goals, and she is tied for the team lead with 15 assists.

Smith is not the only newcomer contributing for the Sun Devils in 2009. Freshman Mariam Salloum has started all 14 games and is third on the team with 28 points (16 goals and 12 assists), while sophomore Sam Schubert has also played in all 14 games, scoring seven goals and adding three assists. Freshman goalie Dana Harvey has collected 88 saves and stopped 45 percent of the shots she has faced while making 12 starts in the cage. Freshman Bella Morrison made her collegiate debut at the Stanford Invitational, and she has five goals and one assist in eight games, while fellow freshman Kelsey White has played in three games and scored one goal.

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 212 goals and 312 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 100 in her career, putting her in second place and just 19 behind Ashley Bower, who had 119 assists from 2004-2007. In addition, she has 122 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 fifth in Sun Devil history in goals scored (91) and seventh in points (124), and she needs just seven points to move into the top five in that category. In addition, junior Bonnie Miles sits fifth on the school's all-time list with 52 assists, leaving her just one shy of fourth place.

The Sun Devils already have 17 instances of a player scoring three or more goals in a game so far this season. Senior Addison McGrath has seven of them, as she has one three-goal game, five four-goal performances and a season-high five goals in the team's victory over No. 14 CS Northridge on January 24. Sophomore Lynlee Smith has three four-goal games and one hat trick, and sophomore Nikki Unbehaun also has three four-goal games. Freshman Mariam Salloum has two hat tricks on the season, while junior Kelly Phelps has one.

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. Harvey has collected 88 saves and stopped 45 percent of the shots she has faced while playing in 13 games (12 starts), while Morris, who played in eight games last season as Wallace's backup, has seen action in five games (two starts) in 2009 and recorded 13 saves.

THE 200/300 CLUB
While the Sun Devils competed at the Stanford Invitational on February 7-8, senior Addison McGrath reached two numbers never before seen in Arizona State water polo history. In the team's 10-9 overtime win over No. 18 Indiana, McGrath scored four goals to give her 200 in her career. Then, the next day, against No. 10 San Jose State, she again scored four goals, and the second gave her 300 career points. The school's all-time leader in both categories, McGrath now has 212 goals and 312 points.

The Sun Devils began the season with six straight wins, setting a new school record for a season-opening winning streak. They defeated Colorado State, No. 14 CS Northridge and Bucknell at the Michigan Invitational on January 24-25, beat No. 15 CS Bakersfield and No. 13 CS Northridge at the Cal Baptist Mini-Tournament on January 31 and then knocked off No. 12 Hartwick at the UC Irvine Mini-Tournament on February 1. The previous mark for longest season-opening win streak came in 2006, when ASU won four in a row to open the year.

Arizona State is 0-9 all-time against UCLA. The Bruins are one of three teams that ASU has never beaten in three or more meetings, joining Stanford (0-8) and Loyola Marymount (0-5). The Sun Devils lost to UCLA twice last season, falling 14-5 at the Michigan Invitational and 14-4 in an MPSF conference game in Los Angeles, and they lost 15-9 when the two teams last faced off in Tempe on March 10, 2007. UCLA has won all five MPSF conference games in the series.

UCLA has won six of the eight NCAA women's water polo championships, including the last four (2005-2008). The Bruins are 11-3 on the season, with their only losses coming to No. 1 Stanford, No. 2 USC and No. 4 Hawai'i, and they currently lead the MPSF standings at 2-0. Senior Tanya Gandy leads the team with 35 goals, while fellow senior Katie Rulon has 26. Senior goalie Brittany Fullen ranks second in the MPSF with 112 saves on the season.

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 22 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. Junior goalie Taylor Greenberg also returns to the Sun Devils this season, after having been out of water polo for the last two years. She redshirted during the 2006 season.

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 graduate assistant manager. 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 will remain at home and continue MPSF conference play next weekend, as they host the nation's top-ranked team, the Stanford Cardinal, at noon on Saturday, March 7, at the Mona Plummer Aquatic Center.