Experience is leading the way this season for ASU soccer.
The Sun Devils return a core of four fifth-year seniors to the team in 2022. After not making the NCAA Tournament last season, forward Nicole Douglas, midfielder Olivia Nguyen, midfielder Alexia Delgado and midfielder Eva van Deursen have a new hunger and determined mentality in their final season in Tempe.
Each one of the fifth-year players has had a significant role on the team for the past three seasons and are a primary reason for recent success.
Before conference play, the four have been responsible for 19 goals and 10 assists while starting every game this season. With 265 total starts among the players, midfielders and forward click to create a dangerous attack.
Nguyen was impressive in her 2021 season as she finished second on the team in goals and fourth in assists. Considering the deep tradition of ASU for Nguyen, the accolades mean a little more.
"I grew up a Sun Devil," Nguyen said. "My mom works at ASU, and my oldest brother went to ASU, so it's kind of in the family, and I grew up going to all the soccer games."
Being from Tempe, Nguyen chose to stay in the Valley because she always knew she wanted to play in the Pac-12. Having the opportunity for family to come to watch home and away games were important to Nguyen as she was able to represent her hometown.
While growing up an ASU fan, Nguyen looked up to many former Sun Devil players like Madison Wolf, Lucy Lara and Adriana Orozco.
However, Wolf was the player that stuck out most.
"I played with her (Wolf) my freshman season, and she was a senior," Nguyen said. "We went to the same high school and as a person, I aspire to be like her because she's super kind and giving. Then as a soccer player, she was just someone I could look up to."
Having been a follower of ASU soccer since she was a child, Nguyen notes how this veteran team differs from others in the past.
"I think it's cool and unique," Nguyen said. "I think with all the hardships that COVID gave all of us, it also gave the four of us this amazing opportunity to come back and play another season. I would say that it's probably the best that ever has been with how close our team is.
"Not only just as teammates. That comes from the four of us seeing how important culture is and embracing that and trying to spread that message to the younger girls."
Another critical component of the Sun Devils is Eva van Deursen.
van Deursen is a veteran player with international experience, playing with the Netherlands U19, U20 and U23 squads and being a four-year starter at ASU. Last season, she finished first in the Pac-12 and in the top 20 assists per game and is on the cusp of breaking the ASU school record for assists.
Like Nguyen, van Deursen is stepping up as a leader and has high expectations for the team this season. With experience and leadership comes knowledge of where players are, what they will do with the ball and where they want it.
"You don't necessarily even have to look where, for example, Dougie (Douglas) is," van Deursen said. "I know where she's going to be, you know, that helps after playing five years together."
Head coach Graham Winkworth said he has an exceptional team already playing top competition in the Pac-12, the Sun Devils have the experience to go far in the NCAA tournament.
"They've been there and done it," Winkworth said. "These girls have all played against the best teams in the country for previous seasons, and (we have) been fortunate to beat them on occasion.
"So they've experienced that, so it will be a case of communicating that it's possible and creating a mindset that anything is possible no matter how good the opposing team is. Having players that have experience can only help the younger players settle."
Edited by Walker Smith, Logan Stanley and Piper Hansen.
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Addison Kalmbach is a reporter for The State Press Sports desk. He has previously worked for Detroit City FC and PHOENIX Magazine.