Rising out of Tempe, Arizona is a program that is looking to make their biggest splash yet on the national scene. The Sun Devils of Arizona State have burst out of the gate, as their six straight wins to begin the 2009 campaign were a school record. While Arizona State did lose three out of four at the Stanford Invitational, it has to be noted that two of those losses were to USC and Stanford with the Stanford defeat being a 15-14 thriller.
The Sun Devils are coached by Slippery Rock graduate Todd Clapper. Clapper was an All-Conference goalie at The Rock and helped lead their team to a top fifteen national ranking. He first made his bones as a head coach at Brown University. In his six seasons with Brown, Clapper was named Northern Division Coach of the Year twice. His 2001 women’s team earned a berth in the inaugural NCAA Championship event by winning Easterns. Todd Clapper recently added the title of head coach for New Zealand’s Senior National Women’s team. We sat down with Coach Clapper to discuss both his Arizona State and his New Zealand squads and below is our interview.
Arizona State should be squarely in the mix for an NCAA bid. What do your Sun Devils have to do to get over the top and into the NCAA field?
It looks like there is a lot of parity again with many teams fighting for a bid to the NCAA Championships. In the past few years, it seems that consistency has been the reason for one team getting in over another. We have had some big wins over the past couple of seasons, but have also had our share of losses that have diminished those wins a bit when looking at the at-large bid. I believe that creating consistency starts with an intensely competitive practice environment. We have gotten better at this every year and I believe that this year, practices are the most competitive and game-like since I have been at ASU. We have to incorporate the new January arrivals in and get used to someone different in the goal this year, but I believe that we will be hitting our stride once conference play begins.
What makes Addison McGrath the special player that she is?
Well, she is very athletically talented, first of all. She played a lot of different sports growing up, which gave her a great foundation for excelling in any sport (she qualified for NCAA Regionals in Javelin on her second-ever throw in competition last spring), especially, water polo. Take that foundation and add someone who is fiercely competitive, very intelligent, and a year-round hard worker (the year-round part is the key) and you have the special player that everyone sees each game.
All-American Kelly Phelps also returns at two-meter defense. Can you tell us a little bit about her and what makes her the great player that she is?
Kelly has been a center defender for us at ASU and a very good one, at that. I think that she really relishes the job of shutting down the other team¹s center by fronting her and denying her the ball. She has been a very big asset for us at that position. She also has a strong outside shot (lefty) with a lot of wrist on the finish of the shot, which makes it difficult for the goalkeeper to read where it is going to go until it is there.
Can you give us some insight about the players who recently signed Letters of Intent for Arizona State and what you think they will bring to the program?
First of all, Shannon Haas is a gem of a player. I have watched her play for several years and have seen her develop. She has the natural ability and much like Addison, she has the drive and the competitiveness to rise to the top of the collegiate ranks quickly and also has a very promising future on the USA National Team. She is a very special athlete and will be a big focus of our game in the future. Rebecca Clopp, Paige Walters, and Morgan Leech-McDonald are all three players that are key players with the teams that they currently play with. These three are great young players, but based on their athleticism and personality, I believe they will be those players that impact immediately, but also drastically improve throughout the years. Finally, Amanda Young will be a strong goalkeeper for us. Like some of the others, I really like what Amanda is doing now as a goalkeeper, but as a former goalkeeper myself, I am very excited to see how she develops just through her first fall training here. She, too, has a lot of upside and potential for development.
You were recently named the Head Coach of the New Zealand Senior National Women's team. Can you tell us a little bit about your new responsibility and what challenges you face?
This is such a great opportunity and an amazing time to get involved with New Zealand Water Polo. There are a lot of changes happening over there under the new director Eelco Uri. Not only am I involved with training the athletes and putting together a plan leading up to World Championships in Rome, I have been involved with guiding the many aspects of a National Program with regard to coaching organization, philosophy, fundraising, and competitive calendars for water polo in New Zealand at many levels.
With the 2009 World Championships and 2010 FINA World Cup right around the corner, what are your goals for the team?
We have a talented, motivated group of athletes and coaches. We definitely have our share of challenges, but we are sorting through them for short-term and long-term solutions, particularly when it comes to financing trainings and trips. Many of the National Squad Members are training/competing overseas, so they are getting experience, but will need to pick up the new system of play quickly, as we don¹t have a ton of time training together. World League will be our first opportunity to get together as a team this year. I think that with a little work, we can be very competitive with the top eight in the World.
With that my interview with Coach Clapper ended. Arizona State’s road to the NCAA Tournament only gets tougher as they head up to UC-Irvine next week for the UCI Invitational, which includes every school currently ranked in the WPP and ACWPC Top Twenty rankings. Do not discount this Arizona State squad however as their combination of veteran experience mixed in with some intriguing talent from New Zealand could get them into NCAAs this fall. With Coach Clapper at the helm, both Arizona State and New Zealand have the steady hand needed to bring success both now and in the future.