Normally, being No. 5 in the nation in a sport will guarantee a team’s spot in the championship tournament. For the ASU water polo team, that wasn’t the case last season, and it has aimed its sights at getting a chance to play for a national title.
Only eight teams play in the NCAA tournament, and ASU missed out on an at-large bid because the four teams ahead of them all come from the same conference.
The Sun Devils are reloaded and ready to make a run at a national title that they missed out on last season.
Although they lost three of arguably the best players in school history, the Sun Devils bring back last season’s top two scorers: seniors Alicia Brightwell and Shannon Haas.
Brightwell tallied 75 goals last season — the second-most in ASU history — and was a first-team selection on the ACWPA All-America team.
In order to prepare to repeat her outstanding performance from last season, Brightwell said that she’s been trimming up and working on ball skills and feels that not only her, but the entire team is ready for the upcoming season.
“We’re fit, and I think this is the fittest we’ve ever been,” Brightwell said. “I think we can do better than last year.”
Alongside her, Haas will be looked upon to repeat another excellent season at the center position. Haas scored 47 goals while drawing 67 kick-outs in her junior year, good enough to be named to a third-team selection on the ACWPA All-America team.
“I feel like every year I do get a little more pressure,” Haas said. “It’s my last year, and I want to do really well and have a great season but also enjoy (it), because it is my last year.”
ASU coach Todd Clapper has many weapons offensively and expects another strong output on the attacking end, but he has to fill the defensive void that former Sun Devil Kelsey White left.
“We’ve been training kind of the whole team and trying to figure out and see who’s going to step up and play that role,” Clapper said. “We have some players that will be able to fill that position, maybe be a little quicker and a little crafty in that position and not necessarily matchup and wrestle quite as much.”
With the addition of new assistant coach Julia Fancher, Clapper has had help preparing his team defensively for the upcoming season.
Fancher played at UC Irvine and had professional stints in Australia and Greece before joining the Sun Devil staff.
“Todd is really good in the goalie aspect and offensively, and I think I bring a lot defensively for the players individually,” Fancher said. “I get to work a lot one-on-one with the team and improving their defense and fundamentals.”
The two together will help lead this ASU squad to perhaps more success this season after last season’s squad recorded the most successful season in school history.
“(A national championship) is definitely realistic,” Clapper said. “We’ve got the defense, we’ve got the offensive production (and) we’ve got good speed, so it’s just a matter of putting it together and continuing to get better every day.”
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