Nestled in the lower half of the top ten is a young squad that is quietly playing solid water polo. San Diego State is currently ranked ninth in the country with their only losses coming to other teams ranked in the national top ten. The Aztecs overall record as this article is being penned is 11-7 with four of those losses coming by one goal to teams such as fourth-ranked UCLA, sixth-ranked Loyola Marymount, seventh-ranked Michigan and Arizona State. With only four goals separating San Diego State from being a top-five team, they are someone to keep an eye on the down the stretch.
The Aztecs are led by Head Coach Carin Crawford. Crawford is in her thirteenth season as Head Coach and in that time has led the Aztecs to two NCAA Tournament appearances since its inception in 2001 and has coached twenty-one All-Americans. We sat down this past week to discuss her squad and their NCAA prospects. Below is our interview.
Your squad has firmly planted itself in the lower half of the national top ten. What do your Aztecs need to do to move yourselves up the rankings and challenge for a bid back to NCAAs?
There are still a lot of important games to be played, especially the MPSF conference dual games and the MPSF conference championship tournament. At this point, we need to win games against our conference opponents who are also contending for an NCAA bid. We need quality wins against teams in the top five, and a strong showing at the MPSF tournament, which are our best opportunities to notch some upsets. We’ve played the top teams in the nation close, so we are right in there, but bottom line, we need to win those close games.
Kelly Campoli is a returning All-American for your squad. Can you tell us what makes her the exceptional goalkeeper that she is?
Kelly is a tremendous all-around athlete, with great quickness and great concentration. She is one of the hardest workers in the pool. She studies shooters’ strengths and tendencies, and she does a great job on directing the defense to influence shots in such a way that helps her to make a save.
Amber Pezzolla also returns after earning All-American honors. What makes her the special player that she is?
Amber has water polo speed, leg strength and a hard accurate shot. She has great ball skills and overall exceptional quickness in all areas of the game. She has tremendous natural talent, she works really hard, and she always strives to learn and improve.
Leanne Ford has gotten off to a great start to this season. Can you tell us what we can expect out of her for the rest of this campaign?
Leanne Ford is a big component of our defense. She has a terrific disposition for defending two-meters and she is strong. On the offensive end, she has proven she can score from anywhere in the pool, but her perimeter shooting is most notable. Leanne is becoming a steady force for us on both sides of the ball.
I noted you signed a big class in December. Can you tell us about the players who will be joining your squad for next season?
Our recruiting class is deep and talented at every position. All of our signees are strong Division I prospects who will build our team for the future. Several will be expected to challenge for playing time right away. All of these athletes have the skill, talent and experience to make our team stronger. When an athlete commits to becoming an SDSU Aztec, they know they will compete with and against the best, and they are all up to that challenge.
We signed a versatile left-hander, Kelli Boling, from Foothill high school. Kelli was a key player in her team’s upset of the #2 and #3 seeds in the quarter-finals and semi-finals in the CIF Southern Section D1 Championships.
Local stand-out Anique Hermann also was a key player in leading her team, Torrey Pines High School to the CIF San Diego Section Division 1 championship game. She is a fast, dynamic driver with great scoring ability.
Carina Carballo is a strong defensive player who also possesses a hard accurate shot, and has worked to improve her game since moving from Mexico City as a foreign-exchange student to Santa Margarita Catholic High School.
Maddie Schwartz is a starter and co-captain for perennial powerhouse Corona del Mar High School, and local San Diego product Nika Sedghi is a tenacious young defender who has been a little under the recruiting radar.
We are also pleased to welcome our first Floridians into the Aztec family, Taelor Moreno and Juliana Matos who are top players from the highly successful Riptide’s club team coached by Carroll Vaughn.
The Fresno area has produced some great talent, and we are happy to have two standouts from the Valley join our program. Alyssa Stevens has a very high water polo IQ for her age and Bailey Wickliffe is an aggressive, athletic, six- foot center. Both are expected to contribute right away.
With that our interview ended. One thing I have always done when analyzing a team’s prospects is to compare their overall losses with losses that were by two goals or less. An easy indicator of whether or not a team may “come out of nowhere” down the stretch of a season is if they were losing close games early on. One goal losses in February can easily become one-goal wins in April. Keep a close eye on San Diego State as I would not be surprised if this team makes a move up the rankings as this season progresses.