No. 3 USC lost a defensive battle to No. 1 Stanford 6-4 on Sunday in the NCAA tournament final, as the Cardinal fended off multiple comeback bids from the Women of Troy to claim its second straight women’s water polo championship.
The Women of Troy fought back from a one-goal deficit four separate times, and the score was tied 4-4 after freshman driver Monica Vavic scored in the first minute of the final period.
But the Cardinal found the back of the net twice more and USC ran out of time to come back.
“We had many opportunities to take the lead in the fourth quarter,” USC coach Jovan Vavic said. “But we just kept hitting bars left and right, and their goalie made some good stops.”
Stanford goalkeeper Kate Baldoni was named tournament MVP after recording 15 saves in the championship match, and her counterpart, USC sophomore Flora Bolonyai, made nine saves against the Cardinal.
Four of Stanford’s goals were scored on power plays, and Vavic said he was proud of his squad for holding strong defensively against a powerful Cardinal attack.
“Stanford is an offensively oriented team. We did a good job to hold them to five [goals] until the final minutes,” Vavic said. “It gave us a chance to close the game in the fourth quarter. Unfortunately, we couldn’t do it.”
One day after converting 12 of their 29 attempts in a 12-10 semifinal win over No. 2 UCLA, USC scored on just four of 30 shots against the Cardinal. Sophomore two-meter Madeline Rosenthal gave the Women of Troy an early lead when she scored with 5:12 left in the first period. It would turn out to be USC’s only lead in the match.
Stanford evened the score just 33 seconds later with a 6-on-5 strike and added another power play goal with 2:23 left.
Sophomore two-meter Colleen O’Donnell tied it up at 2-2 in the final minute, but the Cardinal took advantage of another USC ejection to take a 3-2 lead into the second quarter.
Neither team broke through again until the third period, when junior two-meter Patricia Jancso converted a penalty shot to make the score 3-3.
But Stanford went ahead again just 10 seconds later, and after Monica Vavic leveled the score early in the final period, the Cardinal pulled away after scoring at the 4:13 and 1:11 marks.
Despite the letdown, Vavic said the atmosphere in the locker room after the match was positive, and said his team has a good chance to bring the championship home next year after losing only three seniors.
“We’re going to train and play some matches this summer that are going to help us improve,” Vavic said. “We have a couple of good players joining us next year from the Olympics; we’re going to be better next year.”
Jancso, Monica Vavic and sophomore two-meter Kaleigh Gilchrist were named to the NCAA All-Tournament First Team and Bolonyai earned a spot on the NCAA All-Tournament Second Team.