(Photo: Steve Rodriguez/ASU Athletics)
The No. 22 Arizona State Sun Devils will face their toughest test of the season against No. 14 Pepperdine, in the first game of the Arizona Cats Classic in Tucson.
Pepperdine, which lost its main goal scorer from the 2014-2015 season, comes into the game a slight favorite after moving up five spots in the NSCAA Coaches Poll and tying the number one team in the country (University of Virginia) on Sunday.
The Waves have shown both great offensive and defensive positions to start off their season, allowing just three goals- two of which came against Virginia- while scoring nine of their own.
Sophomore midfielder Bri Visalli and sophomore defender Jamie Van Horn lead the team with two goals a piece, and five other of their teammates have scored one goal each.
Nevertheless, Arizona State head coach Kevin Boyd said the numbers don’t worry him.
“I don’t know that there is much of a gap in the top 25. I think a lot of teams are very close this year,” Boyd said. “Pepperdine is clearly one of them. We’re going to find out playing them if we’re one of them as well.”
The Sun Devils seem to already be in midseason form, showing great technical ability on both sides of the ball.
Arizona State has created a habit of scoring in the opening minutes of its games, and currently holds the third highest scoring offense in the nation with 3.67 goals a game.
Arizona State has also yet to allow a goal this season, making redshirt senior Chandler Morris one of only four goalkeepers in the nation to still have a clean sheet.
Familiarity among veterans and intense training in the spring have definitely had an impact on the Sun Devils’ game. But, senior forward Cali Farquharson said there might be one more simple thing at play this season.
“[The team] just works,” Farquharson said.
The team has not faced a ranked opponent all season, raising questions about possible kinks in the Sun Devil armor that have yet to be exposed. Toppling Pepperdine may prove to be a little more difficult than their previous opponents.
Pepperdine on the other hand, has already had its armor tested against No.1 Virginia, and came out with little more than a scratch.
But Boyd said he’s comfortable in his team’s mentality, and that he will be looking for them to play the same way they have so far.
“I want our team to put an extremely high effort on the field,” Boyd said. “Obviously it’s going to be a bit more difficult against [Pepperdine] because they’ll pressure us more and they’ll attack us more, and we gotta to find out what our defense really looks like when we start facing those, but I just want consistency.”
History is on the Sun Devil’s side. Pepperdine has not defeated Arizona State since 2006, and the last time the two teams met four years ago an unranked Arizona State managed to defeat Pepperdine, which was then ranked No. 10 in the country.
The game will be held at the University of Arizona at 4:30 p.m., and will be broadcasted through the Pac-12 network.