One week after a heartbreaking 9-8 home loss to No. 1 Stanford in double overtime, the No. 3 USC women’s water polo team (15-4, 3-2) journeys across town to Westwood, Calif. for a grudge match against UCLA.
In addition to rivalry implications, Saturday’s contest is expected to have a huge hand in determining the rankings for the upcoming Mountain Pacific Sports Federation tournament, with just one conference game against San Jose State left on the slate.
“It should decide the seedings for the [MPSF] tournament, and it gives quite significant implications as to how well we can play in our league,” said USC coach Jovan Vavic. “It is a very important game for both teams, so we really have to focus and prepare.”
After their tough loss to Stanford, the Women of Troy have used a grueling week of practices to jumpstart their preparation for UCLA (19-5, 2-3), leaving little time to dwell on last week’s loss.
“We’ve had three really good practices this week so far, and we’re focusing on UCLA,” Vavic said. “We didn’t spend much time talking about Stanford — we had one talk after the game, but ever since then we’ve just been looking at this UCLA game. I’m pretty pleased with the team so far.”
Upending the No. 4 Buins won’t be an easy process, as they hold a 38-18 all-time mark against the Women of Troy. This season, they have won four of their last six games.
Against Stanford last week, junior driver Nadia Dan, senior two-meter Kristen Dronberger and freshman goalie Flora Bolonyai stepped up for the Women of Troy. While all three will be counted upon Saturday, Vavic also believes that to be successful, the whole team needs to play at a higher level.
“Every game is different as to who needs to step up and play well, but Dronberger had a good game, and Dan had a good game,” Vavic said. “Our goalie played well, too. However, we need more people to step up. If we had a couple more girls step up against Stanford, we could have beaten them.”
This week, the team will focus on defense. Defensive errors have cost the team games, and the team knows it is defense that wins matches.
“Against Stanford, we made some defensive errors and that really cost us,” Vavic said. “Last time we played UCLA, we were up with an early lead, then in the fourth quarter we didn’t play good defense. UCLA is a fast team, and they have some good counterattack players and some good two-meter players. We have to play good defense, and we’re also going to have to be able to convert our opportunities.”