You would be hard-pressed to think of a better way for the USC women’s water polo to bounce back from its first loss of the season.
For the No. 2 Women of Troy (21-1, 5-1 Mountain Pacific Sports Federation), an 11-6 victory over rival No. 4 UCLA (24-5, 3-3 MPSF) in Westwood on Friday was arguably the perfect way to finish the regular season.
USC junior two-meter Kaleigh Gilchrist and freshman driver Anni Espar led the effort with three goals apiece in the regular-season finale, as the Women of Troy looked to rebound after their hopes for an undefeated season were dashed by a 6-4 home loss to then-No. 2 Stanford on April 13.
With the victory, USC locked up the No. 2 seed in the upcoming MPSF championships.
The Women of Troy started things off with an early 2-0 lead behind a power-play goal from junior two-meter Hannah Buckling and a penalty goal from Espar. The two sides exchanged blows in the first half with neither team having a clear advantage. By halftime, USC led 5-4.
The Bruins kept it close in the third period and trailed 6-5 after UCLA attacker Rachel Fattal scored on a power play with 4:36 remaining in the period.
In response, USC’s defense held the Bruins scoreless for 12 minutes and 35 seconds and rattled off five straight goals to pull away for the win.
One of those goals came from sophomore driver Monica Vavic, serving as her 100th career goal. Vavic finished with two goals in the game.
The Bruins also never led in the game, partly a result of USC junior goalie Flora Bolonyai’s eight saves, six of which came in the second half.
Senior driver Dominique Sardo, junior driver Olivia Cummins and Buckling each scored one goal for the Women of Troy, while Fattal led the Bruins with two goals.
This is USC’s second win over UCLA this year and its third consecutive victory over UCLA, including a victory over the Bruins in the 2012 NCAA semifinals.
The Women of Troy hold the No. 2 seed in the 2013 MPSF championships, which begin on Friday in Berkeley, Calif. and end on Sunday. They will face CSU Bakersfield in a first-round matchup at 11 a.m. on Friday.