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ASU water polo team represents Sun Devils, home country

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TEMPE – College athletes take pride in wearing their school’s colors. International athletes take pride in putting on their country’s colors. At Arizona State, water polo players get the honor of doing both.

But ask them what their preference is and they all answered the same way.

“I prefer playing water polo,” senior Petra Pardi of Hungary said. “It doesn’t matter if I’m playing for my country or playing for ASU. I do it for the love of the sport.”

Seven countries are represented on the ASU women’s water polo team: the United States, Hungary, Brazil, Serbia, Greece, Spain and Australia. Last season also featured players from China and New Zealand.

Hungary recruited Pardi, a Budapest native, for the youth national team when she was 15. She has attended training camps for Team Hungary, attended the European championship and was invited to the senior national team.

“It’s great to be surrounded by the best players of Hungary,” she said. “I feel like I’ve learned a lot.”

Pardi decided her junior year in high school she wanted to attend an American college. When Coach Todd Clapper saw her at the world championships and offered her a scholarship, she didn’t hesitate.

Clapper often recruits at youth world championships so landing players from around the world is not an accident.

“One of the international players who graduated last year, Ianeta Hutchinson, put it best when she said, ‘So many people are going far away from home that this really becomes their family,’ ” Clapper said. “And we really try to foster that culture as much as we can and really make everybody feel very comfortable.”

Izabella Chiappini is a lock to play for Team Brazil at the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. As t
the host country, Brazil gets an auto-bid, Chiappini will play in the Olympics at home.

“It’s going to be a dream come true,” Chiappini said.

Chiappini, a sophomore native of Sao Paulo, began playing internationally on the junior national team in 2011, then transitioned to the senior team. An ASU assistant coach saw her play in a tournament in Australia in 2012 and called Clapper.

Like a lot of international players, Chiappini wanted to come to the U.S. because of the country’s willingness to let student-athletes focus on athletics and academics. But for E.B. Keeve, it’s not an issue.

Keeve is a redshirt junior from Naperville, Illinois, about 30 miles from Chicago. She started playing internationally when she received an invite in 2013. She wasn’t technically on the U.S. national team but still participated in the tournament.

“That first tournament was just an eye-opener for me because it’s such a different level,” Keeve said. “It’s an incredible honor. They take it so seriously and everyone on the team is incredibly passionate about the sport of water polo.”

The 2016 Olympics will see Chiappini represent the Sun Devils for Team Brazil. Pardi and Keeve are also possibilities. Playing for ASU is a thrill but playing for your country in the Olympics is an honor.

“It’s so good I can’t even tell you,” Chiappini said. “It’s going to be great.”