In sports, teams are not always afforded a second chance to win a championship. But for the 2010 USC women’s water polo players, a second chance is in the works.
That is because the Women of Troy, although they finished with a near perfect 26-2 record and a Mountain Pacific Sports Federation (MPSF) title in 2009, fell to crosstown rival UCLA 5-4 in the finals of the NCAA Tournament one year ago. After two consecutive seasons losing in the NCAA finals, the Women of Troy are out to capture that elusive championship in 2010. But despite the fact that the losses have left bitter tastes in their mouths, they remain optimistic.
“You learn from every season,” redshirt senior two-meter Kami Craig said. “You’ve been in finals, and you just learn from those experiences. It definitely gives you some extra motivation throughout the season. We’re just excited to come back stronger this year.”
And looking at the preseason outlook, the Women of Troy have a good shot at coming back stronger and earning that elusive national championship. According to the latest national poll, the Women of Troy are ranked second overall, just behind Stanford, who they finished 3-0 against last season.
What inspires so much confidence in these Women of Troy is a solid returning core of players in addition to a young, talented group of freshmen.
Craig, the 2009 recipient of the MPSF player of the year award, leads a offensive unit that accounted for most of the team’s scoring output last year. The Women of Troy return five out of their six top goal scorers, including Craig and junior driver Joelle Bekhazi.
“We have a lot of great players coming back, including Kami,” returning All-American senior goalie Tumua Anae said. “She is obviously a big offensive threat. And we have our two defenders coming back. I think we have good balance this year. Everyone is just hungry and ready to go.”
Anae, along with Craig, leads a group of four returning All-Americans, who will look to rely on their past experience together to help them reach their ever-elusive goal — an NCAA title.
“Experience should help,” Craig further noted. “The longer you can get girls playing and everyone caught up to speed helps. Our freshmen are coming in competing with us, competing with the older girls. You know it’s just experience and practicing like you’re competing in a game. That really brings out the overall experience.”
Anae is a good player in her own right, as the 2009 All-American finished with 123 saves and 4.9 goals against per game last year — some of the best totals in the nation.
Anae’s mental fortitude and leadership should be even more crucial for the Women of Troy this season.
“Last year we learned how to win,” Anae said. “A lot of people in my grade had never won the tournament or the MPSF. I think the experience of winning and knowing how to do well in those big games will serve us well. We just need to execute.”
USC will get its first test today as it takes a quick trip south to face Long Beach State in the season opener.
A strong start will go a long way toward helping the Women of Troy reach their goal of an NCAA championship.
“We all want it more than ever,” Craig said. “It’s our last opportunity to win a ring and we’re just going for it this season. We want to dominate.”