No. 5 ASU water polo faces big test at UCI Invite

The No. 5 Arizona State University will take part in the third tournament of the season, and the largest one thus far as the squad heads to Irvine, Calif., for the UCI Invitational, Feb. 22-23. The Sun Devils (9-1) will open the competition against No. 15 CSU Northridge at at 12:45 p.m., Feb. 22, at the Corona Del Mar Pool. Depending on the results of that contest, ASU will compete again at either 4:30 or 5:45 p.m. later that evening. 


The 16-team tournament field features all seven programs from the Mountain Pacific Sports Federations and 15 of the 16 teams are currently ranked in the top-20 in the nation, according to the most recent Collegiate Water Polo Association polls. The Sun Devils will take on No. 15 CSU Northridge to open the competition. ASU has already knocked off the Matadors once this season, doing so in a 12-6 victory at the UCSB Winter Invite in the opening tournament of the season. With a win, the Sun Devils would go on to face the winner of No. 4 Cal and No. 10 Loyola Marymount  in the quarterfinals while a loss would pit ASU against the loser of that game. 


The No. 5 Arizona State University water polo team finished as the runners-up at the UCSD Triton Invitational in San Diego. ASU won a dramatic sudden overtime matchup against No. 6 UC Irvine to advance to the final, where the team fell to No. 2 USC, 13-6. ASU improved to 9-1 on the season, despite suffering its first loss.  The weekend also continued to show the emergence of redshirt freshman goalkeeper E.B. Keeve who had 53 saves over the course of the four games while allowing just 27 goals – good for an exceptional .663 save percentage. Shannon Haas had 10 goals on the weekend for ASU as she moved into sole possession of third on the Sun Devils’ all-time scoring list. 


Senior Alicia Brightwell took home the MPSF scoring title last year with 75 goals on the season, good for the second-highest single season tally in school history.  Brightwell’s 2.78 goals per game were also tops in the conference and her 18 games with three or more goals easily paced the Sun Devils on the season. Brightwell matched a school record with seven goals to lead ASU past San Diego State for fifth-place at the MPSF Championships last year and she became the school’s first and only First Team All-American since Addison McGrath in 2008. It took a grand total of one weekend to show that there doesn’t look to be any sort of sophomore slump.  Brightwell scored 16 goals in five games at the UCSB Winter Invite to help lead the Sun Devils to a 6-0 record to open the season.  She was named the MPSF Player of the Week for the performance, making it the fourth time in her career she had earn such honors. Brightwell has 25 goals this season to lead the team – giving her 100 on her career and the ninth-best mark in school history.


Junior Shannon Haas had perhaps the best performance in the nation against the San Diego State last season as she scored a career-high seven goals from the center position to help ASU to the 12-3 upset. Haas’ seven goals tied a school record with ASU greats Addison McGrath and Lynlee Smith (and later with Alicia Brightwell also) and was the most for a single game among all MPSF student-athletes last season until Brightwell scored seven in the season finale. Haas already has 20 goals on the season – second on the team – and that’s good enough for the No. 3 spot in ASU’s record book in career goals with 148. Haas was clutch for the Sun Devils in San Diego, netting the sudden-victory game winner in a 7-6 victory over UC Irvine.


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 No. 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. 


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. 


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 No. 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 12 assists to go with her 11 goals and her 23 points are also good for second on the team.


Goalkeeper Ianeta Hutchinson continues to rise the all-time saves list and she was a large part of ASU’s success  last season season. Hutchinson’s 282 saves on the season were good for the second-best single season total in school history and gave her 422 for her career, already good for second on ASU’s all time list. In addition, Hutchinson posted a career high save percentage of 57 percent while allowing a career-low 6.80 goals per game, good for eighth on ASU’s single-season list and her 10.07 saves per game this year were good for third in school history. Hutchinson injured herself in the fall, however, and will miss the first couple weeks of action for ASU – opening the door for redshirt freshman E.B. Keeve to strut her stuff. 


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 at the UCSB Winter Invite, logging eight assists in five games – nearly matching the 12 she posted in the entirety of last season.


Three times on the 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 was solid to open the 2013 season, as her 15 goals are currently third on the team behind Brightwell and Haas. She had three in a 10-7 victory over top-20 ranked UCSB. Pardi also leads the team in kickouts drawn thus far this season with 11 and her 23 points are tied for second on the team. 


In the latest national CWPA Coaches Poll, the Sun Devils sit fifth in the nation and have remained in the top-5 for almost the entirety of last season and the first couple weeks of the current campaign. 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 placement in school history.


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. ASU forced 177 steals on the year while giving up just 100 turnovers.  ASU is 9-0 when not allowing the opposition to score in double digits and has outscored the opposition 104-63 on the year. Additionally, the team has 128 steals on the season – led by the 28 posted by Alicia Brightwell – and is averaging over 12.8 per game in that category. 


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 season last year (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 10.4 goals per game to open the season thus far and has scored in double digits in all seven out of 10 games.


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.