(Photo: Jonathan Diego/WCSN)
The long season that started back in January is coming to an end, and No. 4 Arizona State will look to finish its season by making a strong run at the National Championship. Only three teams have shared the title – UCLA, Stanford and USC – but with ASU, ranked very high this year, the team believes it can make the strong run.
“We are thrilled and excited,” head coach Todd Clapper said. “We know it was going to be between us CAL and Hawaii for that last spot, and we were thrilled it was us.”
The run for a national title is only the second time in school history. This season has been nothing but memorable for Clapper’s squad. With a team that is led by talented freshman and experienced seniors, Clapper has done a good job of isolating his talent and putting them in the best position to win games.
“It’s committing to the process and committing to each other,” he said. “I think that is what makes this team unique. Every day they come ready to work. There hasn’t been a day where I’ve said we’ve wasted a day. They care about wanting to do well and they care about each other.”
One of the best jobs Clapper has done as a coach is getting freshman outside attacker Maud Koopman involved. As a freshman, she has recorded 35 goals, and has a unique talent of scoring from hard angles.
“Her confidence has grown through the season,” Clapper said. “She has been in the same position in January that we are using her now. On the offensive end and defensive end, she has just really grown, and everybody has confidence in her.”
The season started off rocky. ASU lost several close games to ranked opponents and couldn’t compete with USC in conference, which was a game that showed the Trojans dominating most the game. However, it bounced back and went on an eight game winning streak that was eventually capped off by a win over California in quadruple overtime.
“It’s exciting,” goalie Mia Rycraw said. “When we found out that we were going to the national championship, we were jumping up and down and it was fun.”
Rycraw has had a productive season in cage for the Sun Devils. She leads the MPSF conference in saves with 265 and averages just over 11 saves per game. As a sophomore, she has two years to get better, which is why she is regarded as one of the best goalies in the country.
“We’re going to come out, play our best and play as a team,” Rycraw said. “That is the biggest thing for us is to play as a team is to play for each other.”
For ASU, it will have to rely on their team chemistry to make it far in the tournament. Its talented opponents know what it takes to win these big games, but ASU is just as talented, which could make this weekend very memorable for the Sun Devils.
“I think everybody now is ready to focus and not just happy to be there, which wasn’t the case two years ago,” Clapper said.