Water polo gains first win over Cal in three years

Alicia Brightwell passes the ball in a game against San Diego State on March 3. Brightwell and the Sun Devils upset No. 4 Cal for ASU’s first victory over the Golden Bears in three seasons. (Photo by Sam Rosenbaum)

Momentum is continuing to build for No. 5 ASU water polo, as it upset No. 4 California last weekend.

The Sun Devils (16-2, 2-0 MPSF) beat the Golden Bears (15-5, 2-1 MPSF) for the first time since 2009 with a 10–7 victory. The feat is considered one of the biggest moments in the program’s history.

Seniors Alicia Brightwell, Annabelle Carter and Kelsey White scored early in the first quarter for ASU, and Cal joined them on the scoreboard with one. Freshman Anna Kertes answered with a goal in the last two seconds, putting the Sun Devils in the lead, 4–1.

Within the first 30 seconds of second quarter play, Brightwell found the back of the net again. A minute later, Cal rallied with three goals, but White answered with her second goal in the last two minutes, with ASU leading 6–4 going into halftime.

“They’re a very physical team, so we trained that way and we came out that way knowing that they do that,” Brightwell said.

The physical battle in the pool progressed into the third period, but freshman Ao Gao and senior Mariam Salloum tacked on two unanswered goals for the Sun Devils, heading into the final quarter 8–4.

Gao, who hasn’t competed in a while, was excited to be back in the pool.

“It was the perfect time to get back, especially to play Cal,” she said.

In the fourth quarter, the Golden Bears added three more goals to the scoreboard, but not without response from the Sun Devils. Brightwell answered with her third goal of the game and Salloum netted her second in the final 30 seconds to secure the victory over Cal.

Brightwell said trust has been a key component to the team’s success.

“We trust each other, so we knew we’d go out hard and know what we’re doing,” she said.

Coach Todd Clapper noted the team’s preparation was a key reason it was able to come away with a win.

“We had good preparation all week,” Clapper said. “They hustled a lot, they really worked hard (and) are really competitive with each other. We knew that it was going to be a physical game. It was really exciting to see the team come out and execute and not worry about nerves or whatever, but just getting the job done.”

Aside from beating Cal for the first time in three years, the team was thrilled to have Gao back in the pool.

“Just having her back is so nice,” Brightwell said. “She’s such a good player (who) has such massive experience. Just to have her on the team is amazing … She’s that extra. She’s the Olympian on our team.”

Gao was ecstatic to contribute in defending their home turf.

“This is our pool,” she said. “No one can win at our pool.”

 

Reach the reporter at fawade@asu.edu

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