Water polo ready to defend NCAA championship title

After capping off the 2016 season with an undefeated record and the program’s fifth national championship, the No. 2 women’s water polo team will look to repeat that success heading into the new season.

Experience will be the name of the game in 2017 for the Trojans, led by head coach Jovan Vavic, who enters his 23rd season at the helm of the USC water polo program. With a combined 14 national championships under his belt, five of which come from the women’s side, Vavic has a number of weapons on hand as USC aims to defend its title.

The Trojans return nearly every player from last year’s national championship squad and all six of its top scorers, led by senior Peter J. Cutino Award winner Stephania Haralabidis. The driver from Athens, Greece, was named the top collegiate water polo player in the nation after she led USC in goals last season with 63. Her performance in the NCAA tournament —  capped off by a five-goal outing in the final which included netting the game-winner against Stanford with six seconds left to play — earned her NCAA Tournament MVP honors. The First Team All-American and 2016 MPSF Player of the Year currently ranks No. 8 all-time in career scoring at USC with 185 goals.

A trio of veterans in seniors Brigitta Games, Ioanna Haralabidis and Avery Peterson also return to USC’s starting lineup. Games was explosive from the two-meter position last season, finishing second on the team with 43 goals and earning First Team All-American honors. Last year, she also joined Stephania as a finalist for the Cutino Award.

In addition, Stephania’s twin sister Ioanna Haralabidis enters her final season at USC ranked No. 20 all-time in career scoring with 118 goals. She finished third on the team with 35 goals last season and was named Second Team All-American. Finally, senior two-meter Peterson will serve as team captain for the second straight year. The All-American Honorable Mention scored 35 goals as a junior.

The defense will be headlined by a pair of All-American goalies in sophomore Amanda Longan and junior Victória Chamorro. The duo split time between the pipes last season and helped USC keep its unblemished record intact. Longan made an immediate impact as just a true freshman, averaging 10.4 saves and only 4.7 goals-against in 18 games. With 145 total saves and eight games with double-digit saves, Longan’s presence in the cage earned her First Team All-American honors.

Chamorro, who spent the summer in her hometown of Rio de Janeiro representing Brazil at the 2016 Olympic Games, also brings a wealth of international experience back to Troy. The former All-American Honorable Mention set the record for most saves by a freshman goalie with 207 in 2015 and averaged 6.7 saves in 13 games last season.

Lastly, while USC carries a roster heavy with upperclassmen, one newcomer expected to see significant minutes in the pool will be Maud Megens, a freshman driver from Rotterdam, the Netherlands who helped to lead her Dutch National Team to a silver medal at the 2015 World Aquatics Championships in Kazan, Russia.

With plenty of senior leadership and valuable championship experience, the 2017 Women of Troy will begin their title defense on Friday against No. 7-ranked Michigan in Santa Barbara in the UCSB Invitational. USC has never lost to Michigan (9-0 all-time) and the match against the Wolverines will begin at 2:20 p.m.