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ASU water polo dives into conference tournament after challenging regular season

With one swimmer exiting for the Olympics and a big incoming class, lots of changes are expected for the team before their next campaign

ASU freshman center Sophie Shorter-Robinson (9) attempts a shot on goal at Mona Plumber Aquatic Center in Tempe on March 11, 2023.

The Sun Devils' regular season came to a close after a victory against San Jose State last weekend, ending a turbulent chapter for the water polo team before the postseason.

The team faced adversity this season, finishing with an overall record of 9-12. The Sun Devils went 1-5 in conference games, in which they competed against solid teams like No. 3 UCLA and No. 1 USC. They also struggled to win on the road, going 0-4 in away meets. ASU finished its regular season tied with Wagner College at No. 18 in the top 25 rankings.

Head coach Petra Pardi said injuries was one of the team's main adversities this year. The team lost starting senior defender Lara Kiss in the offseason after she sustained a shoulder injury. The team also lost junior attacker Abby Begg to injury. These injuries have occurred with some of the older members of the team, taking some experience out of the water. Pardi said the team's youth was a challenge while battling the injury bug.

"We knew this season was going to be a tough season for us, even when last season ended, knowing that we graduated almost our entire starting line," Pardi said. "We didn't have a lot of experience sitting on our bench last season, and those are the players that had to step up and gain experience as quick as possible."

Pardi confirmed that Kiss will be returning for a fifth year with the team, keeping an older and experienced player on the young roster. The team is also welcoming many newcomers, with nine freshmen expected to join the Sun Devil squad next season. The incoming freshmen will add to the list of international athletes the team holds, including newcomers from Canada and South Africa. 

Freshman goalkeeper Alexa Knutson is excited to see how the different backgrounds mesh together and hopes diversity will be a strength in the future.

"We have so many different people coming from different places, and everyone's playing style will probably be really different," Knutson said."Extending our bench will definitely help us. We'll have more players to jump in and be able to bring the team up and bring more energy into the water." 

Another strength the Sun Devils had this year was freshman utility Juliette Dhalluin. Dhalluin is tied for second in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation for field blocks, tallying six. She’s a consistent scorer and has already earned three MPSF/S&R Sport Newcomer of the Week honors. 

Dhalluin will be exiting the team next season to train for the 2024 Olympics with the French squad. She plans on returning after the Olympics to finish her three years at ASU and bring more experience to the Sun Devils, especially in playing in big moments. She said the experience playing bigger teams could help her become a leader.

"I am sad to leave the people and the team," Dhalluin said. "I am so excited to get back to France and to have the opportunity to train with the French team, and maybe see if I can make the team if I’m selected by the coach."

The Sun Devils are competing in the MPSF Conference Championship on Friday against No. 3 UCLA. Their mindset is to have fun but also continue working together, according to Dhalluin. 

“We played them a few weeks ago, and it was one of the big games that we proved to ourselves that we could compete with high-ranked teams and work well together,” Knutson said. “I’m excited to see how we can play against them again.” 

No matter the tournament’s outcome, the Sun Devils are still striving to improve between now and next season and learn from their prior challenges.

"I’d like to see us continue in the growth trajectory that we have been on for the last month of this season," Pardi said. "We’ve started to really come together as a team, trusting each other and distributing the ball much better." 

Edited by Kathryn Field, Piper Hansen, Shane Brennan and Caera Learmonth.

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