The USC women’s water polo team, appearing in its eighth straight NCAA tournament, fell short in defending its national championship and finished fourth after losing to crosstown rival UCLA in the third-place game.
USC entered the NCAA tournament as the No. 4 seed in the eight-team field. Matched up against No. 3 UCLA, the Women of Troy recovered from an early deficit, as senior driver Joelle Bekhazi scored two goals to put USC on top in the first period.
Each team converted on three 6-on-5 opportunities during the match, and it was the senior leadership of two-meters Sarah Van Norman and Kristen Dronberger that played an instrumental role in the team’s offensive attack.
In a back-and-forth contest after halftime, the two squads traded goals until UCLA knotted the score up at five goals apiece going into the final period.
The Women of Troy failed to capitalize on their 6-on-5 opportunities in the final period. Finally, it was the Bruins who broke through, as KK Clark scored on a lob shot to put the Bruins ahead 6-5 with just under four minutes remaining in the contest.
The Women of Troy had multiple opportunities to force the match into overtime, but they failed to convert.
“We didn’t get the result we wanted, but we played hard and it was a good experience for our younger girls,” Bekhazi said.
The Women of Troy began tournament play against No. 5 UC Irvine. USC did not trail during the entire match, and pulled away with a 14-9 victory.
After defeating the Anteaters, USC was set to play top-seeded Stanford in the semifinals of the competition. In a rematch of last year’s national title game, the Women of Troy fell 8-4. Sophomore driver Dominique Sardo scored two of USC’s goals, while Stanford’s Kim Krueger contributed three goals for the Cardinal.
Despite falling to both the Cardinal and Bruins, USC has high hopes for next season. Although the Women of Troy will lose two of its top scorers in Bekhazi and Dronberger, several underclassman and juniors throughout the year had integral roles in the team’s success.
“The juniors are going to have to step up a lot [next season] and I think the freshman class, the new girls, we got a few good people,” Bekhazi said. “It’s going to be interesting and it’s still going to be a young team since there will only be two seniors.”