USC women’s water polo team seeks redemption

After opening the season with an explosive 18-0 victory over LMU, the women’s water polo team is setting a tone for a season focused on redemption.

Senior driver Brianna Daboub is one of eight seniors on the Trojans’ squad. In her junior season, Daboub tallied 36 goals over the course of 20 games with 10 multi-score matches. Jo Danielle Esteban | Daily Trojan

Last season ended a game earlier than the Trojans had hoped, as the reigning champs fell a point short of playing in the NCAA final in a heartbreaking 11-10 loss to Stanford. The team enters this year with the same goal in mind as in many years past — taking back its NCAA crown.

The Trojans started the 2018 season on a high note, smothering No. 22 LMU in a shutout to open the UCLA Mini Invitational.

The victory was headlined by junior goalie Amanda Longan, who notched seven saves to keep a clean sheet while defending 10 power play opportunities. Longan averaged 10.91 saves and 5.58 goals-against in her sophomore season, picking up 19 of those saves in the NCAA tournament. Her experience in goal will be a vital factor to the team’s success this season, especially when facing high-powered Pac-12 offenses like UCLA and Stanford.

Seven players found the net for the Trojans, with veterans and new players alike contributing to the victory.

Senior utility player Hayley McKelvey set an aggressive offensive tone with four goals in the first period alone, and sophomore utility player Maud Megens continued the pressure, finishing with a game-high five scores.

The offense gained two goals from senior captain driver Brianna Daboub, and sophomore drivers Denise Mammolito and Kelsey McIntosh both added to the scoring frenzy. Freshman defenders Paige Hauschild and Verica Bakoc also found the net in their debuts as Trojans, with Hauschild picking up a hat trick to finish her first collegiate outing.

The game brought MPSF weekly honors for the team, with Megens earning Player of the Week and Hauschild receiving Newcomer of the Week following their team-leading performances. It also boded well for a team that graduated seven seniors in 2017, including All-American and leading-scorer two-meter specialist Brigitta Games.

However, this team will return a seasoned group of upperclassmen. The roster boasts eight seniors, including All-American Daboub, who scored 36 goals as a junior captain. And this season’s roster is stocked with young talent, highlighted by Hauschild, who played alongside Games for the U.S. national team.

Each year, the NCAA final is dominated by the Pac-12, and by four teams in particular ­— USC, UCLA, Stanford and Cal. The Trojans have appeared in six Pac-12 title games, coming home victorious in three of them. This season will be no different, with Stanford earning No. 1 in the Coaches Poll, Cal following at No. 2 and USC and UCLA tying for No. 3.

Over the past five years, a special rivalry has formed between Stanford and USC. The Trojans defeated the Cardinal for national titles in 2013 and 2016, but fell to them in the finals in 2012 and the semifinals both last year and in 2015. The Trojans have battled similarly with UCLA. The Bruins lead both the conference and the country with seven national titles, five of which came in a five season streak from 2005 to 2009.

Although the team’s season will fully kick off with the California Baptist Invitational on Jan. 27, its sights will be set on April. That month will be packed with back-to-back top-5 matchups, with the team facing Cal, Stanford and UCLA in the three weeks leading up to the MPSF championships.

Those games will count as regular season matches, but they will serve as a preview of conference and national tournaments.

For the Trojans, the next three months will be critical in forming a team chemistry that can withstand three top-ranked rival opponents to reclaim their spot atop the MPSF and the NCAA.