Women’s water polo finds success but cannot close

Despite winning each of their first 10 matches, USC women’s water polo lost for the first time this season. Falling 9-3 to No. 1 Stanford in the championship match of the Barbara Kalbus Invitational, the Women of Troy found a disappointing end to what was an otherwise strong showing for the squad.

Sophomore driver Kelsey McIntosh has scored 14 goals in the 2018 season, the third most on the Trojans’ squad. Daily Trojan file photo.

“By the end, recovery played a huge role,” head coach Jovan Vavic said. “We were definitely worn out.”

To start out the tournament, action was business as usual for USC. After dismantling No. 18 San Jose State by a 17-1 margin on Friday, the Trojans were off and running. Against the Spartans, nine different players found the back of the net, six managed to score twice, and two (drivers freshman Paige Hauschild and sophomore Denise Mammolito) notched hat tricks. As a team, USC opened up the match with a massive 16-0 run only conceding a late goal in the final seven minutes of play.

On Saturday, USC faced a tough pair of opponents standing between them and a shot at winning a third consecutive Barbara Kalbus title. In the first match of the day, the Trojans took down No. 6 Arizona State 8-6 in a hard fought, back-and-forth affair. Taking a 5-5 tie into the fourth period, USC stepped up when it mattered most, striking three more times to secure the victory before the Sun Devils could find any footing. Senior utility player Annika Jensen became the third Trojan to pick up a hat trick over the course of two games while Hauschild netted her fourth and fifth goals of the tournament.

Moving on to the semi-finals, No. 2 Cal. represented the toughest test the Women of Troy had faced thus far in the 2018 season. Early in the match, the Golden Bears were proving just why they are such a difficult squad to overcome. California came out firing, pinning down USC 3-1 within the first few minutes of the game. The Trojan defense tightened up in the second period and by halftime, the score was knotted up 3-3.

Continuing momentum off a strong end to the half, junior goaltender Amanda Longan dominated the final half of play. In a career-best performance of 18 saves, Longan repelled shot after shot from the dangerous Cal team. Her performance completely shut down Cal for yet another period in the third, allowing USC to take a 5-3 lead into the fourth off goals from senior drivers Brianna Daboub and Jensen. Despite conceding their 2-goal lead, USC found a late spark as Jensen completed her second consecutive hat trick with a clutch score that came with just 18 seconds left in regulation time.

“[Jensen] stepped up and that’s what you do as a senior,” Vavic said. “I’m excited to see what she can do.”

All that remained for USC to secure a third-straight title was a championship match against No. 1 Stanford. As it turned out, the Trojans’ long stretch of success would finally come to an end. After turning in a number of dominant offensive performances throughout the early season and the first few matches of the tournament, the goal scoring faltered Sunday against Stanford as the Women of Troy fell 9-3 to the Cardinal.

Despite failures to convert on key chances early in the match, USC was down only 3-2 in the second period. At this point, the floodgates opened and Stanford managed to score four consecutive goals until a last-minute score from Trojan freshman driver Verica Bakoc closed the Trojans’ deficit to 7-3 heading into the half. While this margin is certainly within striking range, USC was unable to close the gap as the Cardinal completely shut down the Trojans’ attack for the remainder of the game to take home the title.

Looking ahead, the squad will have a few weeks off before taking on No. 7 UC Irvine on March 7.