After three straight weekends traveling within California to compete in tournaments to open the season, USC’s women’s water polo team began conference play Saturday afternoon with a matinee battle in Tempe, Ariz. against No. 5 Arizona State.
The Women of Troy (13-0) were wading in familiar waters as they battled the Sun Devils (9-5) in early February in the semifinals of the Triton Invitational in San Diego.
In the first matchup, USC recorded a dominating 10-4 victory behind a hat trick performance by junior two-meter Eike Daube and five other scorers. But with tournament play over, the team must expect a different strategy from opponents, USC head coach Jovan Vavic said.
“With one game you have more time to prepare and when you have tournaments it’s so much more important to wear teams down,” said the 12-time National Coach of the Year. “If it’s only one game a week, even a team that may not be as deep can be dangerous because you don’t have to sub so much.”
Even with only one game to prepare for, ASU faced a problem the Women of Troy exposed in their first matchup. Just as in the first meeting, offensive production came from a variety of sources on Saturday.
The No. 1 Women of Troy made a big splash on the scoreboard early, surging ahead to a swift 3-0 lead. But ASU rebounded and plugged in a couple of goals of their own, temporarily slowing down the Trojan attack and cutting the deficit to two at the end of the first period. USC’s offense, however, would not be contained for long.
The Women of Troy exploded out of the break, registering four goals in the second period, creating a solid 8-3 lead heading into intermission. Freshman driver Stephania Haralabidis led scorers at the half, recording a hat trick, and junior driver Jennifer Stiefel accounted for two of her own.
“We started strong again and we countered hard,” Vavic said. “In the second quarter, we continued to counter and just wear them down.”
In the second half, the Women of Troy exhibited no signs of slowing down. The five-goal advantage they brought into the half quickly increased to eight, as the Sun Devil defense showed no ability of containing the high-powered Trojan offense.
As USC built a 13-5 advantage in the fourth period, junior driver Monica Vavic replicated Haralabidis’ first-half showing with her own spectacular hat trick in just two periods.
Senior two-meter Colleen O’Donnell and senior driver Kelly Mendoza would tack on another goal each for the Women of Troy, generating a 15-6 lead as the final horn sounded.
In total, nine different players contributed to the ’SC scoring frenzy, piquing the interest of the head coach.
“[Monica] had a really, really good second half,” Vavic said. “It was an overall team effort with everyone scoring.”
After playing on the road for the first month of the season, the Women of Troy will finally play at home this weekend. They will place their undefeated record on the line during their home opener against Cal State Bakersfield, a team they defeated 21-1 last month in the first round of the UCI Invitational.
Even though playing at home creates clear advantages, Vavic insists playing in foreign territory is not a problem for his top-ranked team.
“The ultimate goal is to win a national championship and everything we do is to measure our goals and play our best,” Vavic said. “There is not a real difference [between playing at home or on the road]. Obviously at home we are familiar with everything, but the way we train and the way we play, it doesn’t matter where we play.”
This Friday will mark the program’s first game in USC’s brand-new Uytengsu Aquatics Center. Game time is slated for 5 p.m. Friday.