On a chilly afternoon in Westchester, the USC offense completely missed the memo that things were supposed to be cooling down. After a relatively slow first quarter, the top-ranked women’s water polo team came alive to beat the No. 11 Loyola Marymount Lions 17-6.
The lopsided final score hides the fact that, for the first 10 minutes, this was a very tight game. The Women of Troy (19-0) made it out of the first quarter leading by a goal, but multiple passes into traffic and missed shots kept their tally to only three goals in the first frame. The Lions (15-8) should have knotted the game at three goals apiece, but junior goalie Flora Bolonyai swatted away a wide-open shot with less than 30 seconds to go in the quarter.
USC sophomore driver Monica Vavic opened the scoring in the second quarter but was answered quickly by LMU sophomore Laura Lopez. Lopez was a star in her own right during the game, scoring four goals with an electric arm from the perimeter of the offense. When Vavic scored again 20 seconds later, however, the USC offense kicked into gear.
After a USC field block and stellar save by Bolonyai, senior and co-captain Dominique Sardo scored on a skip shot from the right wing to put the Women of Troy up 6-3. One minute later, the offense scored a trio of quick goals, with freshman Jayde Appel, senior Nicolina McCall and Vavic hitting the back of the net in succession to put the game completely out of reach. Appel would go on to steal the ball and add a skip shot goal with 0.81 seconds to go in the half, giving USC a 10-3 lead going into the half.
“I think [LMU] got a little tired [in the second quarter],” USC head coach Jovan Vavic said. “We played pretty physically in the first quarter and worked them down a little bit.”
The Women of Troy lived up to their reputation for third-quarter dominance, as six different Trojans found the back of the net in the frame. Junior co-captain Kaleigh Gilchrist opened the scoring nearly a minute after halftime, followed by a Monica Vavic laser less than a minute later. Junior Colleen O’Donnell would be the next to score, blasting a 5-meter penalty shot past LMU freshman goalie Claire Wright. Junior Madeline Rosenthal would score next, followed by a hard-fought goal by Appel and a turnaround rocket from sophomore Eike Daube.
Action was much slower in the fourth quarter, as junior Olivia Cummins was the only Woman of Troy to score. LMU added another goal from Lopez, but at this point the Lions’ deficit was far too great to overcome.
USC now holds a 90-21 advantage over opponents in the third quarter this season, a statistic that a water polo fan can only marvel at. Just what makes this team so good in the third quarter?
“The teams get tired,” coach Vavic said. “We play anywhere between 12-15 players in the first half, and most of the teams play nine or 10.”
The Women of Troy won’t have very long to celebrate this victory, however, as the squad heads south on Saturday to face in-state rival UC Irvine (15-7). The Anteaters are currently ranked No. 7 nationally and are coming off two straight wins against UC Davis and Pacific.
USC has not squared off against Anteaters this season but have played very well in Irvine, winning all four of their games at the UCI Invitational in late February, including two against rivals No. 2 Stanford and No. 4 UCLA. The last time the Women of Troy faced the Anteaters was on May 13, 2011, when USC won a 14-9 contest in the NCAA quarterfinals. These are two very different teams now, however, and the Women of Troy are prepared for a tough matchup.
“The preparation for UCI doesn’t begin tonight,” Monica Vavic said, addressing the fact that the team only has one more day before the game. “We started preparing earlier in the week for UCI as well as LMU to make sure that we are ready for UCI this Saturday.”
The game will begin at 1 p.m. in the Anteater Aquatics Complex as the Women of Troy look to continue their undefeated season.