The season finally gets underway for the ASU water polo team this weekend, as it looks to start off the 2013 campaign on a strong note.
The Sun Devils will travel to California for this year’s 19-team UCSB Winter Invite that will be held over the weekend.
Although three members of the MPSF conference are also participating in the tournament, ASU will not see action against any of them. The Sun Devils six-game schedule will feature five teams that rank within the top 20 in the country.
“It’s what we planned on doing,” Coach Todd Clapper said. “You go out, you try to get yourself ready for conference games and play the toughest competition you can.”
ASU will have to go through Cal-Baptist, Loyola Marymount, Cal State Northridge, UC Santa Barbara, UC Irvine and Concordia over the course of the three-day tournament.
Last season, the Sun Devils faced all six teams over the course of the year and racked up a record of 8-0 against them, defeating UC Irvine and UC Santa Barbara each twice. They outscored those programs overwhelmingly 84-49 during the eight games.
“Our expectation is to go out (take) one game at a time, and come away with six wins at the end of the weekend,” Clapper said.
This will be the second straight year that the ASU has participated in the UCSB Winter Invite but the first year that the Sun Devils have started the season without junior goalie Ianeta Hutchinson. The junior from New Zealand recently suffered a hand injury and will have to sit out to start the season.
Redshirt freshman E.B. Keeve will get her first ever playing time for ASU when the Sun Devils hit the pool Friday morning.
“I’m nervous just because it’s my first college game ever,” Keeve said. “But I’m prepared, and I think our team is going to do really well.”
Her first game will come against Cal-Baptist, a team that has struggled offensively this season due to the graduation of Petra Kovacs, the second all-time leading scorer in CBU history.
Clapper talked about the adjustment Keeve made into the starting role.
“She trained her legs really strong. She’s had a good three weeks of training from since we’ve been back from the break,” Clapper said. “She looks confident, she feels confident in the goal; I think she’ll do a real good job.”
If the Sun Devils are looking to top their performance from last season, they’ll need to get off to another strong start. Last year they rolled to a 13-0 non-conference record to open the year.
The start was thanks in part to redshirt senior Alicia Brightwell who paced the team with 16 goals during the season opening tournament.
“I think it’s real important to start off well. It sets the tone for the rest of the season and gives us confidence,” Brightwell said. “If we go into the conference wins with games, we’ll be confident, and that’s what we want.”
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