Anae keys strong Women of Troy victory over ASU

For the No. 1 USC women’s water polo team, winning has become rather customary this season, further evidenced by the Women of Troy’s shellacking of No. 9 Arizona State in Mountain Pacific Sports Federation play on Saturday afternoon.

Playing in its first road game since late February, USC (18-1, 4-1) got off to a hot start on the offensive end and subsequently cruised to a 14-5 victory over host Sun Devils (15-11, 0-6) — the team’s 16th consecutive win.

“We talk about getting off to good starts with our press defense,” USC coach Jovan Vavic said, in the wake of the team’s impressive performance. “That helps us get fast break opportunities, which lead to goals. The girls did a great job of that all game.”

One of the key performers happened to be senior driver Kally Lucas, who netted two goals early in the first period before finishing with an impressive total of four, as her offensive abilities helped jumpstart the team early.

“[Lucas] was on fire today,” Vavic added. “She performed better than she has most of the season. She really did a great job of putting the ball in the corner of the nets on all her shots.”

But the senior driver wasn’t the only one to get in a rhythm offensively during the early minutes of the outing. After keeping Arizona State off the scoreboard until the early minutes of the second period, USC reeled off six straight goals to take an 8-1 lead midway through the third period with the help of junior driver Joelle Bekhazi, who recorded two of her three goals during that stretch.

But even in the midst of the Women of Troy’s offensive fireworks, which continued until the final buzzer sounded, the defense took center stage as usual.

The Sun Devils, who rank third in the conference in scoring, found the net just twice in the first three periods against USC’s seasoned senior goalie Tumua Anae, who reminded fans why she is a reigning first-team All-American.

Finishing the afternoon with seven saves, Anae stopped several potential Sun Devil goals that could have swung the momentum in the opposite direction.

“[Anae] had some really good saves and stopped a lot of potential goals,” Vavic said. “Overall, we were pretty solid. [Bekhzi] was really good in two-meter defense and so were others. I think our depth really showed today.”

A strong defensive front made life a little easier for Anae, as its stifling nature severely limited the Sun Devils’ ability to get any shots on goal.

But in the meanwhile, Arizona State was eventually able to tack on three additional goals in the final period, including two from freshman center Shannon Haas, who is unsurprisingly among the MPSF’s leaders in scoring.

But while the offensive surge helped make the score a bit more respectable, it was too little too late as the often demanding Vavic was more than pleased with the team’s road win one week before its crosstown showdown against rival UCLA.

“We have a lot of work to do and we need to prepare, but the UCLA game will be really fun, especially for our seniors,” Vavic said. “It’s going to be a fight.”