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ASU Water Polo gears up for biggest challenge yet at conference tournament

The Sun Devils look to follow through on an impressive regular season with a successful showing in the MPSF tournament in Indiana


ASU sophomore center Sophia Shorter-Robinson (9) defends the ball at game on Friday, Feb. 9, 2024 at the Mona Plummer Aquatic Center in Tempe. ASU won 12-6.

The Sun Devils' performance this season has vaulted them into one of the top teams in the country.

They sit at 22-7 and ranked No. 10 in the country as a part of the most successful seasons in team history. Their 22 wins mark the second most in program history and their highest since 2013, but the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation tournament presents a different challenge and a gauntlet of opponents.

UCLA, Stanford, USC and Cal are all part of the MPSF and among the top five teams in the country. These four teams have gone 5-0 against ASU this season, accounting for the majority of ASU's seven losses this season.

For ASU to qualify for the NCAA Tournament, they'll likely have to win the MPSF tournament and have to go through a few of these teams.

"Every time we're so close, and we need to upset like one of them because otherwise it's almost impossible to make NCAA, but we're willing to fight for it," sophomore goalkeeper Sanne Keijzer said. "The first week now, we have to find a rhythm to train and fight for each other especially."

The Sun Devils have two weeks between their last regular season game and the tournament, a time during which they are getting mentally, physically, and strategically prepared.

While the matchups against top five teams have not gone the Sun Devils' way, the games have come down to the wire and given a young ASU team a taste of the high-stakes games that are coming up.

"Playing against elite teams before this tournament helps us realize that they are beatable," freshman attacker Jasmijn Dikmans said. "It's little mistakes that add up in the end, and we can take those with us ... into the tournament."

These mistakes have shown up not only in the win-loss record but also in the team's usually stellar offensive numbers. In their five matches against the aforementioned teams, the Sun Devils averaged 9.4 goals on 35.8% shooting. In their other 24 matches, in which they had a 22-2 record, they had 14.75 goals on 51.5% shooting.

Against teams with top-end talent, the Sun Devils have to play clean water polo, limit turnovers and generate high-percentage shots. So far this season, it's been tough sledding against higher competition, but head coach Petra Pardi's side plans on adjusting to the physicality and strategy of these teams.

"It always helps to experience that kind of physicality from the top teams, but I also feel like it helps us keeping a sharp eye in practice to remember that we cannot go loose on each other because the big teams won't do that either," Dikmans said.

Strategically, these opponents focus heavily on ASU's top attackers, namely Luca Petovary

The senior was recently named MPSF Player of the Year and has been one of the best players in the country this season, but the extra defensive attention placed on her in these games forced her to shoot down by over 20% compared to other opponents.

For ASU to come out on top, the bench and surrounding offensive talent have to take advantage of the eyes on Petovary and sophomore attacker Millie Quin to find angles for better shots.

"If big teams are focusing on them, they still find ways to find their tendencies and do their thing, but even if they get all the way pressed out and don't have the opportunity, that opens up a lot for the other four girls in the water at that moment," Dikmans said. 

"Either they will create their opportunity and score, or that will open up another possibility on the other side of the pool."

Defensively, the Sun Devils have a similar mentality. They improve upon their mistakes from previous matchups and focus on the fundamentals.

Despite a fatiguing regular season that has forced the team to play an invitational nearly every week, "chilling" isn't even on their minds.

"Otherwise, we're going down physically, mentally. So in that way there's not an off week. We have to get (to) training," Keijzer said.

"We're running out of opportunities for an upset so we're going into conference tournament very, very hungry," Pardi said.

ASU is set to take on No. 5 USC in a rematch tomorrow at 12:30 p.m. 

Edited by Alfred Smith III, Shane Brennan and Grace Copperthite.

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