After a year and a half of winning, the Trojans’ streak is officially over.
The No. 1 women’s water polo team brought a record-breaking 52-game win streak into their game against No. 2 Stanford on Saturday. But the Cardinal came out swinging and never let up, holding on to an early lead to break the Trojans’ streak in a 12-8 final.
From the start, Stanford took advantage of every opportunity for a mismatch on offense. The Cardinal scored off their first 6-on-5 power play, then quickly stretched out to a 3-1 lead in the first quarter. With the Trojans on their heels, Stanford found the pulse of play and kept a hold on their lead through smothering defense.
The Trojans found some success in the second quarter, attacking the net to bring the deficit back to only two goals at the end of the half. That momentum carried into the second half with senior Ioanna Haralabidis slotting a shot into the top right corner of the Stanford goal to bring the Stanford lead to 7-6.
But from there, the Cardinal clamped down on defense, showing a new defensive structure with two defenders closely flanking the goalkeeper to efficiently block any chance at a USC attack. Meanwhile, the Stanford offense found quick rhythm and jumped ahead to a 12-6 lead. Although the Trojans were able to find the back of the net two more times when Stanford rotated in younger players, it was simply too little, too late for the top-ranked team.
The difference between the two teams was a solid stand on defense by the Cardinal, which thwarted the Trojans’ ability to attack both down low and from farther out. Stanford goalkeeper Gabby Stone was at the heart of this defense, recording 11 blocks on the night. Although USC is used to pounding the ball down low through Games, Stanford was stalwart in playing physically — yet within the rules — in the post. The Cardinal also effectively shut down the Haralabidis twins, holding the dynamic duo to a combined 3 points.
For the Trojans, sophomore keeper Amanda Longan did her part by notching seven blocks throughout the game. But the Cardinal remained clean in their attack, moving the ball consistently to find open looks at the net. The Trojan defense didn’t have a solution for the Stanford attack from mid-range, and without an answer on offense, the loss was inevitable.
Now, the Trojans have fallen to No. 3 in the Pac-12 standings. The team didn’t lose for the entirety of the 2016 calendar year, including last year’s NCAA championship title game. The 52-game streak was the longest in NCAA women’s water polo history, beating out the previous record set by UCLA from 2007 to 2009.
The team will return to face off against Cal next weekend in search of redemption for Saturday’s rare loss. The game against Stanford was the the Trojans’ final home stand of the regular season, and with the Pac-12 championships and the NCAA playoffs looming, the team will look to rebound quickly.
Although this was the final game for the Trojans in their home pool, it most likely won’t be their last game against Stanford if this season follows the course of past years. The teams are expected to face off as the No. 1 and No. 2 seeds for both the Pac-12 championship and the NCAA championship. The next time they meet, the Trojans will be building toward a new streak and looking for one thing — redemption.