No. 5 ASU water polo enters UC Irvine tourney eyes on No. 4 Cal

The ASU water polo team plays in the toughest conference in the nation.

The Sun Devils are No. 5 in the NCAA and are also No. 5 in the MPSF, but they hope to change both of those rankings this weekend.

The Sun Devils enter the UC Irvine Tournament on Saturday and Sunday with all four opponents ahead of them in the rankings.

Of the 16 teams competing, 14 are ranked in the top 16.

ASU opens play Saturday against No. 15 Cal State Northridge. If the Sun Devils can pull out a victory, they could potentially match up against the one team they are gunning for: the Cal Golden Bears.

“I really hope we get to beat Cal,” redshirt freshman goalie E.B. Keeve said.

MPSF rival No. 4 Cal is seeded on the same side of the bracket as the Sun Devils. ASU would need to beat Cal State Northridge, and Cal would need to defeat No. 16 Loyola Marymount for that game to happen.

“(Cal) is always a tough match,” redshirt senior attacker Alicia Brightwell said. “We love beating them.”

The CSN Matadors come in with a record of 8-3. Their only losses have come against ranked teams, including No. 11 Long Beach State, No. 2 USC and No. 5 ASU.

The Sun Devils’ last victory against CSN came on Jan. 26 in the UC Santa Barbara Tournament that opened the season, winning 12-6.

Another victory over Cal State Northridge would put ASU in prime position to jump over Cal for the No. 4 spot in the rankings.

If Cal and ASU meet up, an ASU victory would have them trade No. 4 and 5 spots.

Two wins on Saturday would give the Sun Devils an opportunity to meet No. 1 Stanford, No. 2 USC or No. 3 UCLA deeper into the tournament.

This tournament is a chance for ASU to cement itself as one of the best water polo teams in the nation.

While there are many hypotheticals that can happen, ASU coach Todd Clapper refused to discuss them. He is sure his team is grounded and did not let it get caught up in any of the scenarios.

“We have to play well against Northridge to get a win,” he said. “We’re really just focused on Saturday, getting two wins. For us, the rest is gravy.”

The focus remains on Cal State Northridge. If everything falls right, maybe then ASU will be able to play against the school it has its eye on.

“Cal is the team we’d love to beat,” Brightwell said.

Reach the reporter at justin.emerson@asu.edu