Champs of the pool: USC women’s water polo defeats Stanford in NCAA title match

Junior netminder Amanda Longan lunges to stop a net-bound shot from a Stanford player. She recorded 10 saves in the championship match including a clutch stop in the final minutes of the contest. Photo by Emily Smith | Daily Trojan

The USC women’s water polo team defeated Stanford in a dogfight in the NCAA National Championship by a final score of 5-4 at the Uytengsu Aquatics Center. The title has bounced between the Trojans and the Cardinal since 2010, intensifying the longstanding rivalry between the two athletic programs.

This time, however, the match for the ring ended with the entire USC team, coaching staff and even Athletic Director Lynn Swann plunging into the pool, celebrating its nearly flawless 26-1 season.

The Women of Troy were coming off of a dominating performance in the semifinals, where they defeated UCLA in a 10-6 match in Trojan waters to secure their spot in the finals. Freshman driver Paige Hauschild scored 3 goals to help earn the victory, setting a new freshman scoring record at USC and giving her the confidence to step up in the finals.

The final match against Stanford started as a strictly defensive game, with both teams remaining scoreless after the first quarter. Halfway through the second quarter, Stanford drew first blood on a goal from senior defender Jordan Raney. USC’s senior captain and driver Brianna Daboub responded with the Trojans’ first goal of the game to leave the match tied at halftime.

Stanford’s junior driver Madison Berggren opened the second half with a goal. The Trojans quickly fought back with sophomore driver Denise Mammolito tying up the score. The Cardinal’s sophomore driver Makenzie Fischer answered to give Stanford the upper hand. However Hauschild found the back of the net to close out the third quarter, leaving USC and Stanford tied once again.

USC took its first lead 30 seconds into the fourth quarter after another goal from Mammolito. It was now the Stanford’s turn to match USC, and the Cardinal depended on junior Kat Klass to execute. With fewer than  two minutes left, Mammolito completed her hat trick to give USC its final lead of the season, ending the game with a score of 5-4.

Goalies on both ends had a stellar defensive performance. Stanford’s redshirt senior goalkeeper Julia Hermann ended with nine saves, while the Trojans’ junior Amanda Longan had 10 saves. Critical assists from sophomore utility Maud Megens, senior utility Hayley McKelvey and sophomore driver Kelsey McIntosh were a significant factor in USC’s title-winning performance. Hauschild’s four steals were essential to establishing the Trojans’ consistent ball control and confident possessions.

Following the match, Longan was named the 2018 NCAA Women’s Water Polo All-American Tournament Team MVP.

“We were able to hold our heads up the whole time being down for a little while there. And you can feel it out there is what held us in that game, knowing that everything we worked so hard for all year is on the line,” Longan said. “We were playing with ease just for the fact that we were prepared. And even when things weren’t going our way, it didn’t matter. We knew we were going to get through it.”

She demonstrated strong leadership throughout the season, especially during the championship match.

Mammolito, Hauschild and Daboub earned first team honors, while Megens secured a spot on the second team for her efforts throughout the season and her assist in USC’s final victory.

The Women of Troy were led by Jovan Vavic in his 24th season as head coach. Vavic also serves as the head coach of the USC men’s team, and has now earned a total of 15 national championships (six with the women and nine with the men) during his time at USC. He has played an instrumental role in USC’s water polo programs as the Pac-12 Coach of the Century, 13-time National Coach of the Year and 12-time MPSF Coach of the Year. He has coached 12 recipients of the Cutino Award, the most prestigious collegiate water polo honor given to one female and one male athlete each year.

“They worked so hard,” Vavic said. “They really wanted this. They are just a fabulous group, and I really wanted it for them. When good things happen to good people, you just love it.”

The Women of Troy attributed their success this season to the stellar coaching job from Vavic.

“Just pushing through like Jovan [Vavic] says, always play with heart and never give up. Always working for that next possession, that next center play, just keeping going,” McKelvey said. “It’s nice to be on top again. It just felt good to be back on top again.”