In a hard-fought defensive bout between two of the top five teams in the nation, the No. 2 women’s water polo team found its offensive spark in the second half to come from behind and defeat No. 5 Cal 6-3 in a key MPSF match-up on Saturday at the Spieker Aquatics Complex in Berkeley, Calif. With the road victory, USC improves to 26-1 on the season with a 4-1 mark in conference play, while Cal falls to 14-7 overall and 2-4 in the MPSF.
The Trojans, who were just coming off their first loss after 53 games last weekend against top-ranked Stanford, were engaged in a battle from the start against a pesky Golden Bears squad. For the third consecutive game, USC fought back from an early deficit, as the home team struck first thanks to Cal’s Anna Illes. However, a back-and-forth defensive display kept the score at 1-0 at the end of the first frame. The Trojans got on the board in the middle of the second period thanks to senior 2-meter Brigitta Games, who blasted a shot past Cal goalie Madeline Trabucco to even the score at 1-1. Once again, both defenses would not let up as the score remained tied at the end of the first half.
USC finally turned on the jets on the offensive end in the third quarter. Freshman utility Maud Megens earned a big power play for USC to set up a score by senior driver Ioanna Haralabidis, putting USC ahead 2-1. Just moments later, Megens broke through with back-to-back goals to push USC’s lead to three at 4-1. On a 6-on-5 opportunity, Games then took a pass from Haralabidis to rifle in a shot and score to cap a 4-0 scoring run in the third period. Heading into the final period with a 5-2 lead, all USC needed to do was keep the Golden Bears at bay. Haralabidis chipped in another goal in the middle of the frame to give USC a 6-2 lead, and while Cal’s leading scorer Dora Antal would score one more time for the home team, the final score would hold in favor of USC, 6-3.
Overall, the Trojans were held to their lowest scoring output of the season after entering the game tops in the MPSF in scoring at 15.92 goals per game. However, Games’ two goals moved her up USC’s all-time scoring list, as she cracked the Top 20 to sit at No. 19 all-time with 120 career goals. Megens and Haralabidis also scored twice, while sophomore goalkeeper Amanda Longan turned out another double-digit save performance with 11 saves to round things out for the Trojans. With the conference victory, USC improves to 37-18 all-time against Cal with wins in the last 14 meetings.
Now, the Trojans (26-1) will be back in the pool next weekend as they close out the regular season with a game against crosstown rival No. 3 UCLA (19-1) in Westwood on Saturday at 1 p.m. With an MPSF title potentially on the line for USC, this matchup will be just the second between the two teams this season, as the Trojans beat the Bruins, 10-9, in Irvine back in late February. Furthermore, depending on the outcome, Saturday’s match could have major implications in terms of seeding for the NCAA Championship tournament in mid-May.