Women’s water polo eyes national title

The 2014 season is now gone and 2015 is here and that means a fresh start for USC women’s water polo.

The last time this team played a game in the pool, they won third place in the NCAA Tournament over Cal after falling short to UCLA in the semifinals in a 3-5 defensive battle. Senior Monica Vavic, leading scorer and the seventh all-time leading scorer in USC history, believes that last season’s failure to win a championship boils down to one component in particular.

“I think at the end of the season we lost confidence,” Vavic said.

Though the Women of Troy last year started 20-0, the team began to struggle near the end of the season, dropping four of the last 10 games, finishing fifth in the MPSF Tournament and falling short of their mission to repeat as national champions. However, the 2015 team is a completely different team from last year.

The team lost players to graduation, including star goalie Flora Bolonyai, and key scorers such as Colleen O’Donnell, Kaleigh Gilchrist, Olivia Cummins, Kelly Mendoza and Madeline Rosenthal, among others.

Last year’s seniors accounted for approximately a third of the team’s total goals.

Nonetheless, as Vavic describes enthusiastically, this team has a lot of new talent to replace its graduates.

“This year, we bring in a lot of new talent,” Vavic said. “Because we graduated so many girls and brought in so many new ones there’s a totally different dynamic on the team. We’re really excited and have a lot more people involved. We are much more confident this year. We are much more prepared and we are really excited to look to attack on the outside where we were nervous to shoot last year.”

Vavic went on to describe the newcomers and the newfound chemistry she had developed with them.

“We have a great class of freshmen,” Vavic said. “I’m probably most excited about this freshmen class including Brianna Daboub as an attacker who is a great player. She plays the 1-2 side with me. She can also be a defender. She’s really athletic. She’s really competitive. I am excited to play with her. We work a lot together. We have Hayley McKelvey who’s from Canada who’s a really strong guard good shooter. Great to have another defender which keeps me out of having defending two meters. We also have Sydney Blubaugh who is another two-meter defender. She’s a really strong girl, great outside shooter.”

In addition, the Women of Troy bring in a new starting goalie named Victoria Chamorro. “We have a goalie who will be  our starting goalie from Brazil,” Monica said. “She’s really great, has great reflexes, has really good charisma, good passer, not afraid to push the ball forward out of the counterattack. We also have two transfer students who are rookies not freshmen. We have Brigitta Games who is going to be a really powerful two-meter player we really need because we graduated our major two-meter man last year. She’ll be coming in and bringing a lot of power. Really strong and competitive and a huge force in our offense.   She brings a lot of athleticism and is very fast. She’s also extremely competitive. She makes us much more dangerous in the counterattack and is a really good player to play with. We’ve brought in a lot of great characters which really made the team a lot more fun to train with and definitely improved the level of competition within training. I’m really excited to see how the season goes.”

Though the team is seemingly connecting well with the rookies in these early stages of the season, the veterans of the team like Vavic have to step up their game to take the team to the next level.

“My role is going to change a lot as a communicator and leader in the water because we had a really immature team last year,” Vavic said. “We graduated six seniors. This year we have a team of a lot more freshmen. So I think this year, being a much younger team, I need to communicate much more than last year.”

Nonetheless, Vavic is not a typical veteran. Not only is her father, Jovan, the head coach, but her brother, Nikola, was quite a great USC water polo player himself. Monica, in her senior season has to deal with the fact that her brother in his senior season become the all-time leading scorer in USC history. As Vavic describes, she comes from a household with very high standards but is keeping her focus on this season.

“My brother won four-straight national championships and I lost my freshman year so I killed the expectation my freshman year. I think it doesn’t add additional pressure,” Vavic said. “It’s definitely something my dad has said but I’m not really concerned with that.”

Despite her discipline, there is no doubt Vavic has her eyes on the prize and is aiming to finish her career with another NCAA championship.

“I think it’s everything you can ask for here as an athlete. Everyone wants to win a national championship but I think winning a national championship as a senior is probably one of the most special things you can achieve,” Vavic said. “First of all you give the freshman something, a ring, and set the tone, the standard. And for yourself, USC is one of the greatest places on Earth and you’re leaving this university on a win. You are not going to reflect back and think I wish I worked harder in practice or think what if I had done this different, trained harder or spent more time with teammates. You reflect back and remember a whole bunch of smiles and remember the greatest time on the greatest place on earth.”

In addition to the seniors, like Vavic, some of the talented younger players are making an effort to improve, such as Stephania Haralabidis, who was last year’s second leading scorer on the team after Monica.

“This year I have to be more of a leader also with the older girls because I’ve had a year of Jovan’s coaching and also I have to improve on my offense and defense,” Haralabidis said. I’m improving more on it and I am very motivated to win as I’ve been working hard, staying after practices shooting. I really, really want this. We have really great chemistry on this team and I really want this for all my teammates and also myself.”

Speaking of chemistry, Haralabidis shares a particularly special bond with one of her teammates — Ioanna Haralabidis, her twin sister.

“It’s a great thing to have my sister on the team and have her with me all my life through water polo on every single team,” Haralabidis said. “I know where she wants the ball. We’re really fast swimmers. We have a great chemistry between us that we help each other in the pool when we need it.”

This team of not only strong players, but also family bonds, fresh talent and seasoned veterans feels good about entering the 2015 season which officially begins Saturday, Jan. 17 when the Women of Troy will take on CSU Bakersfield at 4 p.m. and Cal Baptist at 6:20 p.m.