The ASU water polo team is finished with its preseason tournaments and will play its first home game of the season Saturday against USC.
After the UC Irvine Tournament last weekend, USC held on to the No. 1 spot in the country.
ASU coach Todd Clapper said the USC team has a lot of depth, which will be a challenge for the Sun Devils.
Clapper said USC’s press defense and goalie are particularly strong. The Trojans also have a couple of strong shooters that Clapper said the Sun Devils will have to make sure they cover the entire game.
“I think they’re probably going to push the transitions and be a fast-break-type team,” Clapper said.
Although facing the top team in the country will be a challenge for ASU, Clapper said he believes things will be different since it’s a one-on-one dual meet, as opposed to facing them in the middle of the weekend.
“They bring a lot of challenges but if we play well, we can get the win,” Clapper said. “I’m confident.”
The Sun Devils had a strong finish to their weekend in Irvine, Calif. ASU defeated then-No. 5 UC Irvine in overtime. The match went to sudden death, and ASU came out on top 9-8.
With that win, ASU finished fifth in the tournament.
“To get that sudden-death win against Irvine was really big in their home pool,” Clapper said.
He was pleased with redshirt sophomore goalie E.B. Keeve’s performance. Keeve saved a one-on-one goal in overtime and about a minute later, freshman attacker Izabella Chiappini scored the winning goal.
Keeve’s 23 saves against Irvine broke a school record of 22 saves that was held for nine years by Caylinn Wallace.
“E.B. was great,” Clapper said. “She had her best weekend so far of the season.”
Clapper said the team’s six-on-five play was much improved compared to the tournament two weeks prior.
ASU’s offense has also been getting a lot of exclusion opportunities. An exclusion in water polo is a foul in which the player is out of the game for 20 seconds.
Clapper compared the exclusions to a power play in hockey.
“We’ve been getting those opportunities, but we haven’t had as high of a percentage as we’d like,” he said.
Clapper said the team has improved when they were excluded as well.
The team’s improvements have put it in a good position for an at-large bid for the NCAA tournament, Clapper said.
“Doing what we did this last weekend put us in a really good position,” he said.
Clapper said the team needs to “keep the foot on the pedal” and continue to improve throughout the rest of the season.
He said they want to win as many games as they can against teams below them in the national rankings and hopefully get a few wins against teams above them. At this point, Clapper said the team believes they are in a good position.
Chiappini said she feels similarly to Clapper.
“Our team is so much better compared to the other tournaments,” Chiappini said. “We’re really playing as a team.”
Chiappini said the game against USC will be hard in every way but isn’t impossible.
She said the last time ASU played USC, the Sun Devil offense wasn’t very good and the six-on-fives weren’t working well.
In order to win, Chiappini said the team would need to focus on their defense.
The game against USC begins at 1 p.m. at the Mona Plummer Aquatic Center in Tempe on Saturday.
Reach the reporter at Megan.Kavy@asu.edu or follow her on Twitter @meggiekavy