Women’s water polo focuses on two-way dominance

Senior goalie Amanda Longan looks to distribute the ball to a teammate. Longan had 49 saves over three and a half games during USC’s opening tournament last weekend.
(Emily Smith/Daily Trojan)

Following its six-win opening weekend at the Gaucho Invitational, the USC women’s water polo team will travel to Riverside Saturday to compete against Concordia and Claremont-Mudd-Scripps at the CBU Mini Invitational.

The Eagles’ and the Athenas’, matches against USC will be both teams’ first of the season. As Claremont-Mudd-Scripps belongs to the Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference, which is part of NCAA’s Division III, Saturday’s match will be the program’s first against the Trojans. The Athenas’ record last season was 18-10 overall, although they fared well against SCIAC opponents, boasting an 11-3 conference record.

A member of the Golden Coast Conference, Concordia regularly faces tough competition, including No. 7 Pacific and No. 15 Loyola Marymount. The Eagles have struggled to find success in such a talented conference, evidenced by their 0-7 conference record last season. The last time USC faced Concordia was two years ago, when the Trojans dominated the Eagles 28-1.

Junior attacker Hanna Jordan will play a key role for the Eagles in countering the hot Trojan offense this Saturday. Jordan is an all-around threat; after only two seasons, she ranks among Concordia’s top 10 all-time lists in goals scored (56), steals (26) and assists (13).

Despite Concordia’s talented scorers, offensive pressure has been hard to come by against the Trojans so far this season. On top of that, the Trojans’ potent offense threatens to outscore opponents even if its defense is struggling. Though Cal Baptist was able to score 5 goals on the Trojan defense last weekend, USC scored a whopping 25 times to overwhelm the Lancers. In fact, the Trojans are conceding an average of just 4.75 goals per game, while their offense puts up 16 goals on average. 

“Offensively we’ve been able to score quite a bit in every game,” head coach Jovan Vavic said. “I think offensively, we are a very, very dangerous team, and I hope that continues.”

The Trojans’ success on both ends of the pool may be attributed to the team’s well-rounded approach to practice.

“You have to focus on a little bit of everything [in practice],” Vavic said. “Half-court defense, down-a-man defense, transition defense, center plays, how to attack the opponent’s defenses and verifying how we execute in extra man situations and fast breaks.”

USC has also focused on integrating new players into the team, especially those who began practice as recently as Dec. 27. Freshmen 2-meters Tilly Kearns and Mireia Guiral, from Australia and Spain respectively, seem to be adjusting well to the team dynamic: Each delivered multiple-goal performances for the Trojans last weekend. Facing weaker opponents early on in the season should allow these young players to familiarize themselves with the team and develop their skills.

“It’s been good,” Vavic said of integrating new players. “Mireia and [Alejandra Aznar], our two Spanish girls, are very experienced … so they are learning our system very fast. Tilly is a quick learner, and our other freshmen are learning. They’re getting the grasp of things.”

Although the Trojans boasted a 12.8-goal margin of victory on average in their first six games this season and face two opponents this weekend who struggle against ranked foes, Vavic emphasizes that they put in the effort up to the final whistle.

“It’s really one play at a time,” Vavic said. “I don’t think our players think so much about the score as [much as] executing the next offensive or defensive play and really getting better.”

The weekend’s non-conference play begins against Concordia at 12:45 p.m. Saturday. Immediately following that game the Trojans will reenter the pool to face Claremont-Mudd-Scripps at 2 p.m.