No. 3 USC gearing up for No. 5 UC Irvine

The third-ranked USC women’s water polo team (13-1) is taking a break from tournament play this weekend to face UC Irvine at 1 p.m. on Feb. 28. Almost halfway through the regular season, the Women of Troy have had their ups and downs.

Senior Monica Vavic has been exceptional up to this point, as the No. 2 scorer in USC history is just five goals shy of tying for first. She started the season with 191 career goals and is now at 250. Vavic has been racking up goals left and right, including a USC and MPSF record-breaking performance of nine goals in one game. While head coach Jovan Vavic always maintains his focus on the upcoming game, he also acknowledged how special it is to see Monica thrive in her senior season.

“It is special because her brother was at one point the No. 1 scorer, and I know that she is really respectful of her brother and she wants to go in his footsteps,” coach Vavic said. “We really constantly stress unselfishness and making an extra pass and being a team player, so it is special for me to see that she is playing well, and for a scorer, she is really more than that.”

The whole team started out the season very well, going 10-0 and sweeping opponents at the UCLA Invite, Triton Invitational and Lancer Invitational by a combined goal margin of 229-30. Offensively, the team looked unbeatable. At the Lancer Invite, freshman Brianna Daboub went 8-for-8 in shooting and sophomore Brigitta Games was 8-for-9. In addition, freshman goalie Victória Chamorro is allowing, on average, 3.6 goals per game. All these new players were not only gaining experience, but also confidence. However, last week was a bump in the road for the Women of Troy. At the UCI Invitational, they encountered teams with more talent and suffered their first loss of the season to UCLA, 3-5. They would place third in the tournament after beating California. While USC expected to win the tournament last week, as coach Vavic pointed out, there are positives to take away from it.

“I think that overall in the tournament our defense was pretty consistent,” he said. “We gave up 4.5 goals on average and that’s very good considering we have a freshman goalie. I think she has been playing pretty well and has been consistent so that’s a big positive because at the beginning of the season that was our biggest question mark.”

The UCI Invitational, as coach Vavic notes, had astonishing similarities to last year’s NCAA tournament. In both tournaments, USC lost to UCLA in the semifinals by a score of 3-5 and beat Cal to earn third place. While the Women of Troy have looked good early this season, they still have a long way to go on their mission for another NCAA championship. Yet, he believes this is a different team and a different year, and he is focused on UC Irvine.

“UC Irvine is a very tough team, a well-coached team, and we are preparing for that,” coach Vavic said. “We are in good shape and just got to take care of business in training. That’s the number one thing.”