Stanford again favorite in stacked MPSF

Starting at the Bottom: (from left) ASU junior Nikki Unbehaun, freshman goalie Ianeta Hutchinson and junior Mariam Salloum fend off a UCLA attack on March 5 in Tempe. The Sun Devils are preparing for the conference championships, where they will be the lowest seed. (Photo by Beth Easterbrook)

When it comes to women’s water polo, the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation is undoubtedly the best conference in the country.

The top five teams in the nation are all members of the MPSF and all eight of the conference’s teams are ranked in the top 12.

Despite a successful non-conference record in 2011, the ASU water polo team failed to win a conference game all season and the No. 12 Sun Devils (11-12, 0-7 MPSF) will certainly have their hands full at the MPSF Championships, which take place from April 29 to May 1 at San Jose State University.

Although the Sun Devils have been unable to come away with a conference win so far this season, they have had some very competitive games within the conference and are hoping to get their first conference win at the conference tournament.

1. Stanford (23-0, 7-0 MPSF):

The Stanford Cardinal will be entering the MPSF tournament as the top ranked team in the country, and they haven’t lost a game all season.

While the Sun Devils and the Cardinal have only played once this season in conference play, they played a total of three times as they met in two separate tournaments.

In their three games they played, the Cardinal has outscored the Sun Devils 39-11. Although they have won all three games convincingly, the Cardinal was especially dominant in their recent trip to Tempe, where they took a 7-1 lead into halftime and won 12-3.

2. California (21-4, 6-1 MPSF):

The California Golden Bears will be entering the MPSF tournament as both the second seed in the tournament and the second ranked team in the country.

ASU has played Cal twice so far this season, but has come up short both times. The Bears defeated the Sun Devils 15-7 and 11-7 despite decent offensive performances by the Sun Devils. ASU Junior Kelsey White scored four goals the last time these two teams played.

3. UCLA (22-5, 4-3 MPSF):

The No. 3 Bruins have only played the Sun Devils once this season, but there was no mistaking who the better team was as UCLA easily defeated ASU 8-1.

In their one meeting this year, the Bruins scored four goals in the first quarter and although the Sun Devils were able to slow down UCLA’s pace, the Bruins were able to nullify the Sun Devil offense.

UCLA will bring a four-game win streak into the conference tournament and will play their first game against USC.

4. USC (16-5, 4-3 MPSF):

No. 4 USC is limping into the MPSF tournament after losing two of its last three regular season games.

The Trojans and the Sun Devils will play each other in San Jose if both teams are able to advance to the second round. The two teams have only met once this season and the Trojans came away with the 12-3 victory.

In their previous meeting, the Trojans scored three goals in each quarter while the Sun Devils were limited to only one goal in each of the final three quarters.

ASU senior Lynlee Smith scored two goals in the contest, but if the Sun Devils and Trojans should meet in the second round of the MPSF Championships, ASU will need more people to contribute to the offensive attack.

5. Hawaii (17-7, 4-3 MPSF):

The No. 5 Hawaii Warriors have already defeated the Sun Devils twice this season with one win coming in the final game of the regular season and the other in the Stanford Invitational early in the year.

Both games have been close as Hawaii defeated ASU by scores of 10-7 and 9-7. The Sun Devils have proven that they are capable of keeping up with Hawaii, but they have yet to show that they can outscore the prolific Warriors, who have scored 233 goals this season.

6. San Jose State (20-11, 2-5 MPSF):

Although they will not play in the first round of the tournament, ASU has its best chance to earn a victory against No. 7 San Jose State.

Despite losing the one conference matchup against the Spartans 10-8, the Sun Devils were able to beat San Jose State twice in tournament play 12-9 and 12-8.

It is never easy to beat a team multiple times in one season, but the Sun Devils have shown that this is a team they are able to beat.

7. San Diego State (20-12, 1-6 MPSF):

No. 9 San Diego State is another team that the Sun Devils were able to defeat in tournament play, but unable to top in conference play.

In their one conference match-up of the season, the Aztecs defeated the Sun Devils 9-7, while the Sun Devils defeated the Aztecs 10-9 in the UC Irvine Invitational.

While the results may have been mixed, the two games were very similar. The Aztecs jumped out to an early lead in both contests and the Sun Devils put together a comeback.

In ASU’s win over SDSU, the Sun Devils completed their comeback with the game-winning goal just under a minute to go, while in the Sun Devils’ loss, their comeback attempt had promise but simply ran out of time.

8. ASU (11-12, 0-7 MPSF)

The Sun Devils will enter the MPSF tournament as the eight seed after going 0-7 in conference play. This is the third straight season the Sun Devils failed to win a conference game, which makes their prospects for the conference tournament look bleak.

While conference games have not been kind to the Sun Devils, they have had a lot of success in non-conference games and finished the season by winning three of their final four match-ups.

Although the Sun Devils have been playing well and are confident heading into the MPSF tournament, they will open against Stanford, a team that has already beaten them three times this year.

Reach the reporter at william.boor@asu.edu