USC women’s water polo dominates at Winter Invitational

USC women’s water polo ran riot in Santa Barbara over the weekend, beating five teams in three days to cap an undefeated UCSB Winter Invitational. The No. 2 Trojans faced a tough challenge to open their season, going into a tournament against five other ranked programs, but five emphatic victories put the defending NCAA champions head-and-shoulders above the rest of their top-25 competition.

USC began the invitational last Friday against No. 9 Michigan. The Wolverines kept things close early on, canceling out goals from senior 2-meter Brigitta Games and senior drivers Nikki Stansfield and Stephania Haralabidis to keep the score knotted at 3-3. The Trojans were finally able to pull away, however, thanks to two quick scores from freshman utility Maud Megens. USC ran away with the game from there, with five other Trojans grabbing goals (two from freshman driver Denis Mammolito). Michigan couldn’t beat sophomore goalie Amanda Longan after its early success, and Longan finished the 11-3 victory with 13 saves — one from a penalty shot.

Senior Victória Chamorro replaced Longan in cage on Saturday for USC’s next game against No. 22 Cal Baptist, and she recorded 11 saves in a Trojan demolition job. Three players scored hat tricks for USC, including a career-high four goals for sophomore driver Courtney Fahey. Megens stayed hot against the Lancers as well, with junior driver Brianna Daboub completing the hat-trick trio. Haralabidis, Mammolito and freshman driver Elise Stein also scored two goals apiece in USC’s 22-1 blowout. Cal Baptist narrowly avoided getting shut out, beating Chamorro with 20 seconds left in the final quarter.

No. 23 Cal State Northridge was up next for USC, and the Trojans dispatched the Matadors in similarly comfortable fashion. Megens scored another hat trick to increase her tally to eight goals in three games, and senior driver Ionna Haralabidis — Stephania’s twin sister — also grabbed three goals. Seven others found the score sheet as USC cruised to a 16-3 win with Longan back in goal.

The Haralabidis twins then took over in full on Sunday. No. 5 Hawaii was the Trojans’ toughest challenge yet, but seven combined goals from the sisters (four from Ioanna Haralabidis, three from Stephania Haralabidis) propelled USC to a 13-8 victory. One goal from each Haralabidis gave the Trojans an early 2-0 lead that they would not surrender until the end of the game.

Finally, USC wrapped up against the hosts, No. 9 UC Santa Barbara. A whopping nine goals from Stephania Haralabidis (a career high) sank the Gauchos with Chamorro and freshman Holly Parker splitting time in cage. All in all, Stephania Haralabidis recorded 20 goals in five games, and the 19-5 blowout meant the Trojans returned to Los Angeles boasting a perfect 5-0 record.

The impressive Winter Invitational showing further extended USC’s incredible winning streak, which largely came from last year’s undefeated, championship-winning squad. Including the win over UCSB, the Trojans have notched 32 consecutive victories and have not lost since the 2015 NCAA semifinal. They will look to make it 34 in a row on Saturday, when they take on Concordia and Whittier in a doubleheader in Riverside.