On the heels of a sub .500 season that saw multiple seniors graduate, it was apparent that the ASU women’s water polo team needed reinforcements. Over the past year, the Sun Devils have delivered on that with new players added to the roster and a fresh mentality.
"The takeaway we had (from last year) was developing the bench," said head coach Petra Pardi.
The new members of the team have brought an influx of youth and bolstered the bench depth. Despite being a relatively young team, numerous individuals came to ASU with years of international experience.
The amount of international players on the water polo team doesn't just help in the pool but is also a strong factor in recruiting. Sophomore attacker Millie Quin cited diversity as a reason for wanting to come to Tempe, and senior attacker Luca Petovary cited Pardi as one of the reasons she chose ASU.
"The fact that there are (players from) at least 5 other countries, the chemistry and understanding seems to click as we all have brought a diverse set of skills through different experiences and understanding with water polo," Quin said.
Quin shines as a prime example of this chemistry. After transferring from UC Berkeley this past year, she has amassed 15 goals and 20 points in a mere four matches. Having to share the ball with Petovary and graduate defender Lara Kiss has not inhibited her scoring and has only improved her offense.
"With Luca on the 4-5 side, we can create double the opportunities through drives and picks, so often our defenders have to choose one of us, leaving the other open for a goal-scoring opportunity," Quin said. "Lara is an amazing distributor, so having her on the 1-2 side is really good for both of us."
One major difference between international water polo and the style of play in the U.S. is the aggression and physicality overseas, especially on the defensive end of the pool. But over time, the players have learned to combine each of their unique backgrounds from previous teams with this current one.
"One of our biggest benefits in this team is how we (all) played different water polo and bring it all together here," Petovary said.
The team's diversity goes beyond the players themselves; the coaching staff is comprised of Pardi and Sandra Kiss, who both hail from Hungary, as well as Ethan D'Souza, who has years of experience with Team Canada.
"I am blessed with two of the best assistant coaches in the country," Pardi said. "From day one, they were bought in on what we were trying to build and bought in on the process."
The experience this roster possesses has presented Pardi and her assistant coaches with a myriad of rotation options. Freshmen attackers Jasmijn Dikmans and Kat Featherstone are already getting notable play time, while sophomore goalkeeper Sanne Keijzer has capitalized on her starting role by saving 31 shots to begin the season.
"Half of our team is freshmen and … we really trust them in the water," Petovary said.
The roster construction simultaneously allows the Sun Devils to field a competitive team right now and develop their young players into the building blocks of the future.
"We have a really nice balance of sophomores, juniors and seniors, which is beneficial for the younger class to learn from," Quin said. "Long term, the balance of freshman provides the opportunity to grow and develop the program at ASU."
As the team accumulates even more experience throughout the season, the Sun Devils' chemistry and skill sets will only be enhanced. Being dependent on youth is an obstacle for most teams, but as ASU increasingly relies on their newcomers, they may prove to be the difference.
Edited by Alfred Smith III, Alysa Horton and Caera Learmonth.