A fierce battle between the nation’s top two teams came down to the wire on Sunday afternoon at the Anteater Aquatics Center in Irvine, but when it was all said and done, it was the No. 2 women’s water polo team that emerged victorious and walked away with the Barbara Kalbus Invitational crown.
The successful weekend in the water for the Trojans (18-0) began with three straight wins over ranked opponents — including one over No. 3 UCLA in the tournament semifinals — and was capped off by a huge 10-9 overtime victory over previously undefeated and top-ranked Stanford in the title game.
In a rematch of the 2016 NCAA Championship final, USC once again got the better of the Cardinal as their overtime triumph kept the Trojans’ undefeated record intact and extended their winning streak to 45 games in a row. The streak, which dates back to the last game of 2015, bests the former record of 44 wins in a row held by the USC men’s water polo team from
2005-2006. Two more wins would put USC in sole possession of the women’s winning streak record of 46 games held by UCLA.
On its road to the Barbara Kalbus Invitational title, USC had to face four ranked teams in No. 20 Loyola Marymount, No. 7 Hawaii, No. 3 UCLA and No. 1 Stanford. In the process, USC handed the
Bruins (11-1) and the Cardinal
(11-1) their first losses of the season. But despite the fact that the victory over Stanford was considered an upset on paper, sophomore goalkeeper Amanda Longan and the Trojans don’t put too much stock into the national rankings.
“We’ve heard it before, time and time again, but those rankings really didn’t matter this weekend. The task at hand was to show people why we should be ranked at the top,” Longan said. ”Even though we did earn our place last year, this year is a new year and we know we’re going to have to earn that top spot every single time we play.”
USC and Stanford have combined to win the past seven national championships, and their first meeting of the season in the tournament final certainly lived up to the hype. It was a back-and-forth affair to start the game, as no team would move ahead by more than two goals. USC held a 4-3 lead at halftime, but after several ties, the score remained deadlocked at 7-7 at the end of regulation.
In their first overtime game of the year, the Trojans would rely on the strength of their veterans, as junior utility Hayley McKelvey and junior driver Brianna Daboub scored two timely goals to give USC the 9-8 lead at the end of the first extra period. Stanford tied the game at 9-9 in the second overtime, but senior driver Ioanna Haralabidis ultimately saved the day for the Trojans, as her goal with just five seconds left was all USC needed to secure the 10-9 upset victory.
Longan, who finished with
12 saves, was proud of the way her team kept its composure and withstood the Stanford attack.
“It was quite the thriller because it was such a good, close game all around. We had to be on our toes the whole time,” Longan said. “But to finally meet up with Stanford for the first time this season, right after having played UCLA for the first time the day before, we wanted to be able to set that tone. It was a really good stepping stone for us this weekend.”
After posting wins over No. 20 Loyola Marymount and No. 7 Hawaii in group play, USC prepared for a
semifinal matchup against No. 3 UCLA on Saturday. The first crosstown showdown of the season was a close one, as there were multiple ties and lead changes to open up the game. A
four-goal second period for the Trojans gave them a 6-5 advantage at the half, but UCLA tied the score at 6-6 early in the third frame. From there, USC’s balance on the offensive end and solid defense allowed the Trojans to outlast the Bruins 10-9 and propel them into the finals against Stanford the next day.
“Those last two games were all about energy, heart and who wanted it the most,” Longan said. “It was big for us to finally have games where we could just lay it all out on the line and then come out with the win. I’m proud of how we played this weekend.”
Longan and the Trojans will now prepare for a short trip up to Cal State Bakersfield for a 1 p.m. bout with the Roadrunners on Saturday (Mar. 4) to begin MPSF play.