USC notches impressive conference-opening win

Facing top-10 ranked Hawai’i, the No. 2 USC women’s water polo team knew that a win wouldn’t come easily, but 32 minutes later the Women of Troy exited McDonald’s Swim Stadium with a 14-7 win.

The win marked USC’s first in Mountain Pacific Sports Federation play, as senior two-meter Kami Craig led the team with four goals, powering a scoring barrage that saw nine different players record at fewest one goal.

“We knew we had to come out with a lot of energy in this game,” Craig said. “We wanted to switch the momentum and gain some confidence heading into the Irvine tournament this weekend. So it was just a continuous battle throughout the game, and we eventually caught up with Hawai’i in the third quarter.”

USC (7-1, 1-0) got off to a sluggish start once again, as they failed to get on the scoreboard until midway through the opening period before eventually tallying six first-half goals to give the Women of Troy a three-goal halftime lead.

The third quarter, however, marked a strong momentum shift for the Women of Troy, as they recorded five goals to put themselves in the driver’s seat. Craig tallied three goals in the period to reach 128 career goals, taking over as USC’s 10th all-time leading scorer.

But Craig wasn’t the only one who got in a rhythm offensively in the second half. Sophomore drivers also tallied three goals to help put the team in a comfortable position. The offensive display made it incredibly tough on a Hawai’i team that grew tired as the game wore on.

“Hawai’i got tired because we played a physical defense and were able to push it quite a bit,” said USC head coach Jovan Vavic. “It was tough on them because they don’t have a deep team. We were able to play more players and that made a difference.”

That type of aggressive defense, which jumpstarted USC’s offense and made it incredibly difficult on the Rainbow Wahine (5-5, 0-2) offense, was even more stifling than in weeks past. Even a normally pessimistic Vavic took note of the team’s improved play.

“We’re definitely doing a better job defensively,” Vavic said. “I think overall, our defense is picking up. Defense is all about attitude. Anybody can play defense. You just need to be focused to play.”

With an impressive victory in hand, USC now heads south to participate in the challenging UC Irvine Invitational this weekend. On Saturday, the Women of Troy will open group play against Long Beach State, a team they already defeated 13-3 in their season opener earlier this month.

“We’re excited to learn from our last mistakes from the last tournament,” Craig said. “We have a whole new attitude now and a little burning desire to get revenge.”