USC looking to extend its strong start

After winning four out of its first five games in 2010, including a strong performance in the Stanford Invitational last weekend, the No. 2 USC women’s water polo team remains poised for a strong showing in its home opener Saturday against No. 7 Loyola Marymount.

“There is nothing like playing at home. You have your home crowd, you’re at your home pool and you have the home court advantage like everybody says,” said senior two-meter Kami Craig. “It’s just fun, and we hope to start out with a bang.”

But defeating their intra-city rivals and starting off 1-0 at home won’t come easy, as the undefeated Lions are presently ranked seventh nationally after winning the UC San Diego Triton Invitational last week. Additionally, they feature a rising star in sophomore two-meter Kimberly Bendetti, who was named Western Water Polo Player of the Week on Wednesday after scoring 11 goals in the tournament.

“They definitely have a few good players we’ve been looking at,” said senior goalie Tumua Anae, who already has 36 saves on the season. “I think that going into this weekend, with our first home game, we just want to come in and win,”

And the Women of Troy certainly have the offensive firepower to put themselves in the position to do just that. In their four victories this year, which most recently included a 13-3 shellacking of fifth ranked UCLA, they have averaged 13.5 goals per contest, placing them among the best in the nation. Five starters have already recorded at least seven goals thus far, including leading scorer Forel Davies, who presently has 8 goals on the season — a significant improvement for a player who finished with just 19 a year ago. Such offensive balance makes stopping them an incredibly challenging task for opposing defenses.

Yet, while their strong performance thus far has left the Women of Troy pleased, they are nowhere near satisfied, as they head into their Saturday outing.

“We did a lot of things really well over the weekend,” said Anae. “But we also have a lot of things that we needed to work on that were exposed during the Stanford game. We’re thinking about the loss to Stanford and the things we need to work on.”

Provided that the Women of Troy can maintain their offensive prowess, and fine-tune some of their defensive issues, then look for USC to leave McDonald’s Swim Stadium with a victory in hand.

“We expect to play really good defense this weekend — it’s one of the things we’ve been working really hard on during practice,” Anae added. “It’s about communicating with each other and hustling.”