The skill of the USC women’s water polo team was on full display this past weekend as the Women of Troy swept through the competition to win first place at the Triton Invitational in La Jolla, California.
The No. 3-ranked Women of Troy (6-0) made quick work of their matches over the weekend, using their depth to steamroll their first three opponents while putting up a big 10-5 defensive win over No. 6-ranked UC Irvine in the championship game. With the victory over the Anteaters, USC claimed its third straight Triton Invitational title.
USC poured on the offense throughout the tournament as the Women of Troy continued to scorch the back of the net racking up a total of 66 goals scored compared to just 13 goals allowed. Furthermore, USC’s scoring distribution was spread among 15 different players on the weekend, with six freshmen and five sophomores all notching goals in at least one game.
Ultimately, the Women of Troy’s scoring attack and strong defensive presence in the cage helped secure USC’s first tournament win of the season.
“You know, we played pretty well,” head coach Jovan Vavic said. “In every game we scored over ten goals. We played good defense throughout the tournament. Overall, it was a very good tournament for us.”
Depth was something that the 12-time National Coach of the Year harped on at the beginning of the season. Despite the youth on the roster with 13 freshmen and two transfers, Vavic believed that the talent throughout the roster was showcased over the weekend.
“We have a really good balance,” Vavic said. “We have pretty good centers, good outside shooters. Monica Vavic and Stephanie Haralabidis both scored 14 goals in the tournament, Melissa Bergesen scored nine, and loanna Haralabidis and Jenny Stiefel scored seven, so those are our leading scorers. We also have girls contributing in many other ways, stealing the ball and assists. It was a big team effort.”
To kick off the two-day tournament hosted by UC San Diego, the Women of Troy started off with an early morning match against Cal State East Bay. The last time the two squads met, USC handed the Pioneers a 26-4 loss at this same tournament two years ago. It would be more of the same story in 2015, as the No. 3 seeded Women of Troy used their balanced scoring attack to rack up an easy 22-4 victory against the Pioneers (1-4).
USC came out of the gates hot, blanking East Bay by a score of 6-0 at the end of the first frame and creating a 9-2 lead by the end of the second. The Women of Troy would eventually pull away in the second half, scoring eight goals in the third period and adding five more in the fourth. In addition to senior driver Monica Vavic’s game-high seven goals, seven different players would score in the match, with junior newcomer Melissa Bergesen adding a career-high six goals in just her third game as a Trojan.
Later in the day, the team played its second match against Big West foe and No. 15-ranked Long Beach State. The 49ers, winners of an earlier match against No. 14-ranked Michigan, were ultimately no match for the high-powered USC offense. The Women of Troy rolled out to a 10-0 advantage by halftime with six different scorers in the books, and at one point led by 13 goals. Sophomore driver Ioanna Haralabidis shared game-high honors with Vavic, scoring three goals apiece. In the end, the Women of Troy allowed just one goal in the afternoon, handing Long Beach State (1-5) its fifth loss in six games by a score of 15-1. After all was said and done, USC wrapped up the day with 11 different players notching goals, while freshman goalie Victória Chamorro tallied seven saves in just six periods in the cage.
With their two wins on Saturday, USC advanced to the semifinals of the Triton Invitational where they played against another Big West team, the No. 11-ranked Cal State Northridge Matadors. In what would be yet another offensive onslaught and defensive lockdown in the pool, the Women of Troy showed no signs of any let down and blasted the Matadors from the start. USC scored five goals in the first period and four more in the second to head into halftime with a 9-0 lead. Northridge would get their first score with seven minutes left in the third frame, but it was all USC the rest of the way as the Women of Troy ran away with a 19-3 win at Triton Pool.
Nine different players scored against CSUN (3-3), led by sophomore driver Haralabidis’ five goals.
Monica Vavic and freshman Courtney Batcheller contributed three goals each, while Stephania’s twin sister Ioanna and freshman Sydney Blubaugh pitched in two goals apiece. Jennifer Stiefel, Brianna Daboub, Hayley McKelvey and Jayde Appel all added one each. After scoring the first nine goals of the game, USC never looked back, building up its 19-3 large margin win. With the final whistle blown, the Women of Troy had punched their ticket to the championship game against No. 6 UC Irvine later in the day.
It was a perfect setting for an afternoon showdown in La Jolla, as the game for first place at the Triton Invitational featured two of the top three seeds in the tournament. No. 3 USC battled UC Irvine, who had defeated No. 5-ranked Arizona State earlier in the day. The Anteaters ultimately ran into a staunch USC defense, as the Women of Troy took control from the opening whistle and never looked back. Senior All-American Eike Daube scored on the first drive just 30 seconds into the match, while Stephania Haralabidis chipped in three more goals by the end of the first quarter. The Women of Troy built a 9-3 lead at the end of the third period, and UCI would never recover. USC went on to win first place in the tournament by a score of 10-5 over the Anteaters (5-3). Stephania Haralabidis led the team with five total goals, while Daube, Brigitta Games, Vavic, Stiefel and Melissa Bergesen added one each. While it was its lowest scoring game of the tournament, USC had no problem relying on its defense to secure a win.
The corps of USC goalies allowed a total of just 13 goals in four matches, with freshman Chamorro, junior Alegra Hueso and sophomore Melanie Slater all seeing meaningful playing time, while multiple Trojan defenders wreaked havoc on the opposing teams.
“That was some very good production that we had, especially from Victória as a freshman,” Vavic said. “I thought as the tournament went on, we played better defense. Some games we were excellent on defense. Against Long Beach, they scored only one goal and then today against Irvine, we were doing a good job helping each other out and helping out two-meter defenders.”
In addition to winning a third-straight Triton Invitational title, it was a weekend to remember for senior captain and First Team All-American Vavic, who continued to climb up the ranks in USC’s record book for career goals scored. Her 10 goals on Saturday propelled her to a tie with former Olympian and Peter J. Cutino Award Winner Moriah Van Norman (2003-2006) at No. 3 all-time with 215 career goals, and her four goals on Sunday allowed her to take sole control of the title with 219 career goals. Vavic only needs five more to surpass No. 2 all-time Sofia Konoukh’s (2001-2003) 224 career goals.
With their four wins over the weekend, the No. 3 Women of Troy remain undefeated and improved their record to 6-0 on the season. USC will now look ahead to next weekend when they travel to Riverside for the Lancer Invitational on Feb. 13 and 14. The Women of Troy will kick off the tournament by facing the host Cal Baptist Lancers on Saturday (Feb. 13) at 4 p.m.