A year ago, the USC women’s water polo team notched an NCAA title, bolstered by the legwork of a senior-laden roster. In 2011, it will look to follow a similar path, but with a much younger, more inexperienced group.
Headed by the reigning national coach of the year Jovan Vavic, the No. 2 Women of Troy remain poised for a repeat despite roster turnover, as they return All-Americans senior driver Joelle Bekhazi, senior two-meter Kristen Dronberger and sophomore two-meter Patricia Jancso. The trio accounted for a sizeable portion of last year’s goal count, as Jancso and Bekhazi finished with a combined 101 goals on the season. Dronberger finished with seven during the NCAA Tournament alone.
“At the beginning of the season every year there is great excitement and hope,” Vavic said. “The girls are extremely focused and ready to go.”
Some pundits, however, worry that the loss of highly regarded players, such as All-MPSF-first-team goalie in Tumua Anae and Cutino Award-winning two-meter Kami Craig, could hamper the team’s ability to compete on the national stage. Nonetheless, the Women of Troy have yet to lose the confidence that carried them to a 25-3 season a year ago.
“It’s impossible to replace some of the players we lost,” Vavic said. “You just don’t replace them, but hope that the younger girls are ready to shine. We have some of the best players in the nation in Dronberger and Jancso. The strength of this team will be in our returning players.”
Although largely relying upon their returning players, the Women of Troy have also started to look at some of the newer players, who are preparing to prove their own abilities in the pool. Vavic couples an incoming recruiting class, featuring some of the world’s best talent, with several returners who did not have many playing opportunities in 2010. All will be counted upon to continue the team’s recent track record of success.
“We have some younger players that didn’t play many minutes last year, who want to prove themselves,” Vavic said. “We also have a great recruiting class. We’re looking at Flora Bolonyai from Hungary to make a big impact in the goal, and we also have two girls that came off of the junior national team; [two meter] Madeline Rosenthal and [two-meter] Colleen O’Donnell.”
The team itself is looking forward to being able to prove to the nation that they are still competitive and a team to be reckoned with.
“We’re going to upset a lot of teams,” Bekhazi said. “Our team is young, ready, focused and have some fire in them to unleash. I think we’re going to end up surprising a lot of people.”
The Women of Troy have historically been the team to beat, especially after their NCAA title last year. The team believes that it has the talent and preparation to rise back into the No. 1 spot, as long as injuries are kept at bay.
“The coaches have prepared us well and I think this team is a pretty good team. The preparation and what we did during the whole offseason before is going to help a lot,” Jancso said.
On tap for USC is this weekend’s Stanford Invitational, where they will face Indiana at 10:50 a.m. before an evening clash against crosstown rival UCLA. On Sunday, an early 8 a.m. matchup against Hawai’i is on the horizon, before USC’s opponent in the afternoon game is determined.
But in spite of the team’s arduous slate, it has maintained a focus on the season as a whole.
“We want to go to the NCAA tournament, that’s obviously our goal,” Vavic said. Every single conference game this season is a big game. Our opponents are really dangerous, and we have to be prepared.”