For the No. 1 USC women’s water polo team, strong starts have become essentially habit as of late. But during Saturday afternoon’s matchup at No. 2 Stanford, however, something appeared radically different.
During Saturday’s showdown with Stanford, the only team to defeat USC this season, the Women of Troy got off to a fast start once again. But unlike in such previous contests, turnovers and inopportune plays derailed their efforts in route to a 7-6 heartbreaking overtime loss at the hands of the Cardinal.
“We’ve been more committed to stopping the counterattack,” said USC coach Jovan Vavic. “In this game, we did not do that.”
If Vavic were to start pointing fingers, defense and careless passing wouldn’t be bad places to start.
Despite an early goal by Stanford to put USC in an immediate hole, the Women of Troy reeled off four consecutive goals to build a 4-1 lead midway through the second period.
But even with such an advantage, sloppy play on behalf of the offense put a great deal of pressure on the USC defense, and the Cardinal capitalized on such mistakes to score two late goals, bringing its halftime deficit to just one.
“We had an opportunity to go up 5-1 with an extra man opportunity, but we got careless with the ball,” Vavic said. “That momentum swing right there really hurt us.”
Following Stanford’s late second quarter surge, the Women of Troy found it much harder to break away in the second half of the contest as neither team lead by more than one goal.
Facing such a strong opposition, USC nearly lost in regulation before junior two-meter Kristen Dronberger scored off a rebound to knot the game up at six to force overtime.
But in the extra period, USC would once again have difficulty capitalizing on the offensive end and, as a result, would eventually lose on a shot by driver Kelly Eaton that snuck past senior goalie Tumua Anae in the final minutes.
“We had a chance to win the game in the overtime,” Vavic said. “We had an extra man opportunity, but we just didn’t covert.”
Because of such an inability to execute when it counted the most, the loss ended the team’s 18-game winning streak, but more importantly gave the Cardinal the regular season conference title and top seed in next week’s Mountain Pacific Sports Federation tournament scheduled to be held at UCLA’s newly pristine Spieker Aquatics Center.
On Friday, the Women of Troy had more luck against San Jose State, building an early 4-2 lead and coasting to a 14-5 victory.
If the Women of Troy expect to take home the conference crown and position themselves for a run at an NCAA championship, it’s essential they get back to the basics like they did against San Jose State.
“There are many positives even if we didn’t play as well as we could have,” Vavic said. “We created numerous opportunities and we had opportunities to win. No question.”