The USC women’s water polo team scored early and often Thursday afternoon against Hartwick College in the friendly confines of the Uytengsu Aquatics Center. The No. 1 Women of Troy (19-0, 4-0 MPSF) defeated the Hawks (15-9) by a final score of 21-5.
Coming off a dominant three-game series in Hawaii, junior driver and reigning Mountain Pacific Sports Federation Player of the Week Monica Vavic did not waste any time continuing her scoring streak. After winning the opening possession, Vavic found herself in prime position to strike a shot past the outstretched Hawk goalie, giving USC a 1-0 lead just 21 seconds into the game. Unfortunately for Hartwick, the Women of Troy’s scoring did not end there.
As the first quarter came to a close, senior driver Olivia Cummins delivered a beautiful touch shot that arched over Hartwick’s defense to give USC an 8-2 advantage. In the opening period, freshman driver Stephania Haralabidis displayed her vast arsenal of scoring abilities, using both a forceful line drive and two skip shots to find the back of the cage and net an early hat trick.
The “score early” concept was not abandoned. Just 14 ticks into the second quarter, Haralabidis dished out her second assist of the game to Vavic on a two-on-one fast break. USC’s No. 6 all-time leading scorer was not done there. With just under three minutes remaining in the first half, senior goalie Flora Bolonyai corralled a big save and tossed a long outlet pass to the streaking Vavic, who registered yet another score to give her the hat trick and give the Women of Troy a 13-2 lead.
Jumping back into the pool after intermission trailing 14-2, the Hawks displayed their best defense to open the quarter, not allowing USC to get an open shot or hold onto the ball. Almost three minutes into the half, however, senior captain Maddie Rosenthal found senior driver Kelly Mendoza, who was able to deliver a rocket past the inside post with defenders draped on her shoulders to end the short offensive draught.
Junior driver Jennifer Stiefel was able to plug in two more for the Women of Troy in the period before Hartwick finally made its presence known and registered its lone third-quarter tally on the scoreboard with just under a minute to play. Awaiting the horn to signal the end of the period, freshman driver Ioanna Haralabidis took advantage of the slow Hawk defense and punched in another goal to give USC a 19-3 lead going into the final quarter.
Bolonyai, the MPSF leader in fewest goals against, was relieved after three brilliant quarters of work — recording eight saves — by freshman Melanie Slater.
The Women of Troy pulled back on the scoring brigade in the final quarter, focusing on their defensive strategy and allowing some fresh faces to record valuable experience. Though the game play changed, the intensity did not. Head coach Jovan Vavic remained enthusiastic, commanding his troops and taking advantage of every opportunity to correct any miscues, despite holding a commanding lead.
The Hawks were able to break away and had a scoring chance late in the game, but Slater remained poised, punching it away off the crossbar. A late bank shot off the post by senior two-meter Kaleigh Gilchrist capped things off.
Next in line for USC is a trip up the coast to play No.8 San Jose State and a rematch of last year’s NCAA National Championship game against No. 3 Stanford.
“We have been looking forward to this game [against Stanford] for the past 5 or 6 weeks so we are really excited about it. It’s going to be interesting because we haven’t played them yet so we don’t know what type of a game plan they are going to have,” said Vavic. “We know their strengths and they know our strengths. These are two teams that know each other very well so it will be a great game.”