Q&A: Crawford discusses upcoming season, 2021 roster

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Courtesy of SDSU Athletics

San Diego State water polo head coach Carin Crawford looks on during a match.

by Breven Honda, Senior Staff Writer

No. 17 San Diego State water polo returns to the pool for the first time in 11 months this weekend taking on No. 6 Arizona State in Tempe, Ariz. for a doubleheader on Feb. 13 and finishing off the three-game series on Valentine’s Day. 

The water polo squad is one of the few SDSU teams to not have a conference-only schedule this spring as they attempt to go after another Golden Coast Conference Championship. 

Before the team travels to the desert, The Daily Aztec caught up with 21st-year head coach Carin Crawford about what to expect this season.    

The Daily Aztec: How are you doing and how is the program doing? 

Carin Crawford: “To be honest, it still feels kind of surreal to think (last May) at that time, I was still sad about the seniors losing their chance to finish their senior season and in my mind, I had the idea that we would honor them at our alumni game in January and that being so far off about being ‘we’ll be fine by then, right?’ It’s still pretty surreal that we’re still in the ducts of COVID and all of the precautions that need to be taken and…get back in the pool for the fall semester. We ended up having 43 practices and that was a little bit shorter than normal and it was a lot of different than normal. ”

DA: Since you could not have your annual alumni exhibition match as you would every January, what did you do to substitute the match? 

CC: “We basically just simplified a few of our Saturday practices as intrasquad scrimmages. That is typically the January activity is that we have scrimmages during our winter break team, which was quite reduced compared to previous years. Our goal for Saturday practices for intrasquad was running a full, four-quarter scrimmage of eight minutes.”

DA: Looking at your roster, what does it mean that a lot of your players that you recruit are from San Diego, the Southern California region or from Northern California? 

CC: “I love that. We’re so blessed to work in a water polo hot bed here in Southern California. I think we’re an attractive school as a water polo program; won a lot of games in a national pool. It feels like I have real relationships with the club coaches down here in Southern California and I think we’re the perfect fit for good athletes in Southern California. They might be from Orange County, they might want to get away from home, but still be close enough to go home when they want to. Between Orange County, San Diego and a little higher up in the LA area are pretty much our recruiting we’ll find.”

DA: What does it mean to add Raquel de Pinho in the program and how it does that balance the goalkeeper position in 2021?

CC: “We had a transfer last year who ended up (disqualifying). Racquel also ended up not travelling home to Brazil, which is so fortunate because of all the travel bans and the difficulties had she not been able to make it back here. She is a good fit for our program. She’s got pride and experience and she’s tough and super competitive. I think she’s going to compliment our goalie crew really well. We’re just a little depleted with injuries with who we had. I thought (junior Zoe Morgan) and (redshirt sophomore Grace Halliday) played really well for us, but we were making sure that our style will be in the goal and pushing that position group and looks like she will be pushing that group.”

DA: What is it like to have international talent in the program with not only de Pinho, but also senior defender Lucia Carballo?  

CC: “Lucia is from Mexico and Racquel is from Brazil. Lucia has played on the Mexican National Team. While they don’t speak the same language, they have some similar cultural things that they can relate to with one another. One thing they have learned while being together in the program is they talk about soccer, the most popular sport in the world with Mexico and Brazil being fierce rivals.”

DA: What are your expectations for your players, especially for your seven seniors such as Carballo?

CC: “Lucia was selected for team captain, along with (senior driver) Karli Canale. Those two I think probably work harder than I believe two (other) athletes here in the program, so they couldn’t be better captains and role models in terms of their work ethic. Lucia didn’t start at defender — it was all because Casia Morrison was a senior last year, but she all but started for us. She played big minutes for us and she’s confident, her shot blocking was excellent, her team-leader defense was excellent and she started to score the ball more. I’m excited to see her have a great senior season. This group of seniors, knowing how our season ended last year, are really really motivated.” 

DA: What are expectations for senior utility Emily Bennett, who has received three all-Americans, in her senior year? 

CC: “I keep talking to her about coming back, but she’s got plans and she’s working on going to  physician’s assistant school, so it’s probably going to be her last year. She is a monster. She’s hard to defend being left-handed and with her size and her power. She was rehabbing from an offseason surgery and was just starting to finally feel like she was in shape and she was able to train more fully and feeling pretty good. So it was really devastating when we stopped when we did, so that’s another element of huge motivation. She’s back healthy at 100%, playing really good water polo right now, and I think another star candidate for another All-American honor.”

DA: What is the mentality for the team in 2021?

CC: “We were 3-0 in conference when we got shut down and I think everyone on this team really believed that we had the ability and the opportunity to win conference. That feels like we were hitting on stride when we had to stop. With that, we started to believe in ourselves that we could be a championship-caliber team and I think that has stuck with everyone during this long layoff and through COVID. (We) got determination like we want to finish something that we started and something that we started to really believe that we could accomplish. That has really stayed with this team and I am really proud. There’s still a lot of challenges from having to practice in new ways and it starts from the minute you wake up from filling out a health questionnaire. Collectively, we have an idea that we are going to finish what we started and we have a belief that we can win.”

DA: Who is a player you think will have a breakout season?

CC: “I am going to say Karli Canale. I think she was starting to break out when we had to stop in March and she’s come back, she’s stayed in good shape through her job as an ocean lifeguard. She is one of the most competitive people I’ve ever met. Now that she’s a team captain, I feel that she’ll be on it like every practice, every game and elevating everyone around her, shooting the ball really well. She would be my pick. Emily Bennett is going to keep doing what she did but I think Karli is going to take it to the next level.”

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