The last time the Women of Troy found themselves in an overtime thriller, Anni Espar netted her second goal of the game to secure the Women of Troy the 2013 NCAA National Championship title in a triple-overtime sudden death extravaganza against Stanford. And though the national title wasn’t on the line Sunday evening, USC’s chances of defending its UCI Invitational crown — and bragging rights — were.
Standing in the way of retaining that title was crosstown rival No. 3 UCLA.
After demolishing Cal State Bakersfield 21-1 in the opening round of the tournament Saturday morning behind a combined five-goal effort by the Haralabidis twins — freshmen drivers Ioanna (3) and Stephania (2) — the Women of Troy found themselves in a rematch with No. 10 Cal State Northridge.
In USC’s first meeting with the Matadors earlier this month, senior goalie Flora Bolonyai tallied 10 saves during a spectacular performance that led to the sixth shutout in program history in a 13-0 victory. Even though the Matadors were able to find their way onto the scoreboard this time, Bolonyai repeated with another stellar outing, recording 12 saves in just three periods of work as USC earned a 12-5 triumph.
A strong Saturday in the pool earned the Women of Troy a spot in the semifinals, where they faced No. 4 California Sunday morning.
Jumping out to a quick first period 4-1 lead, the Trojans never allowed the Golden Bears to gather any momentum. USC entered intermission with a 6-3 advantage and gave up no ground in the second half.
Stephania Haralabidis — who logged her first career four-goal game — continued her offensive prowess as she scored four goals in USC’s 12-7 victory over Cal. On Monday, she was named the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation Newcomer of the Week after leading the Women of Troy with 10 goals throughout the four-game tournament.
“Stephania was excellent against Cal,” said 12-time National Coach of the Year Jovan Vavic. “She is a young player, but this girl is going to be an Olympian for sure. When she gets more comfortable in our system and starts playing more [freely], without too much thinking, she is going to be an unbelievable player.”
After UCLA stunned No. 2 Stanford by registering a 9-6 sweep of the Cardinal in the other semifinal matchup, the stage was set for a dramatic finish.
The Women of Troy entered the game with an unblemished record of 11-0, largely thanks to incredible offensive production throughout the season so far. But the dynamic Bruin play style turned the championship game into a defensive battle.
The Blue and Gold got on the board first, gaining a 2-0 lead before senior two-meter Madeline Rosenthal ripped one in to close out the first period, number 15 of the young season for the Miami native.
In the second half, senior two-meter Colleen O’Donnell propelled USC to a 5-3 lead with back-to-back scores of her own.
As time was winding down in the fourth period, the determined Bruins cut into the lead with just under two minutes to play. As Trojan fans began to celebrate, UCLA plugged in another goal with just five seconds remaining in regulation to even the score and force overtime.
“It was disappointing for us to have a two-goal lead with just a couple minutes to go and let them get back into it,” Vavic said. “We relaxed. We got the lead, and we stopped attacking. We made some defensive errors, and we just didn’t finish the game when we had a chance to do so.”
With momentum in their favor, the Bruins continued their scoring streak — recording the lone goal in the first period of overtime to take a 6-5 lead. But this would not last long.
In the second period, junior two-meter Eike Daube was determined to keep the undefeated season alive. Just 42 seconds in, Daube rocketed a shot across the goal, which found its way into the net to even the score. Daube’s day was not finished there.
Just after the U.S. Junior National Team member tied it up, Daube tacked on another one with a skip shot to pull the Women of Troy ahead, 7-6. Terrific Trojan defense followed, giving USC the title of UCI Invitational champions once again.
“Eike came through in the second overtime, and this is her best overall performance as a Trojan,” Vavic said. “Whenever there is a little bit of adversity, it’s great to see someone like Eike step up.”
Daube’s stellar play throughout the tournament, which included three goals against Cal in the semifinals in addition to her late heroics against UCLA, earned the title of MPSF Player of the Week.
The tournament was USC’s first tough competition of the year and Vavic treated it as a great learning experience.
“I learned that we are really tough,” Vavic said. “We stayed together when we were challenged. We are going to be a tough team to beat this year.”
Next up for the Women of Troy is a trip to Tempe, Ariz., where USC will face Arizona State in its first MPSF event of the season.