After falling to the Chinese national team 10-5 in an exhibition match Tuesday, the No. 1 USC women’s water polo team looks to open conference play with a win this Saturday against Indiana.
The first quarter of Tuesday’s exhibition match against China showcased strong defensive efforts from both squads. Senior goalie Amanda Longan, last week’s MPSF Player of the Week, blocked several of China’s early offensive chances and held the Chinese to a single penalty goal in the quarter. USC held a 2-1 lead early in the second, but was overcome by 5 unanswered goals from China later that period. The Trojans were unable to catch up in the second half.
Such a performance is highly uncharacteristic for a Trojan squad that previously averaged 15.91 goals scored and just 2.83 goals against this season.
“Definitely one of the things that we’re going to continue to work on is not giving up goals,” senior driver Courtney Fahey said. “It’s our main goal to hold opponents to the least amount of goals possible. But I think the main difference [in the game against China] was that we just need to be more focused. That’s something that we’re going to work on in the future for sure, starting now.”
Saturday’s match against Indiana will be the Trojans’ first game outside of the invitational setting this season. The single-game weekend allows the Trojans to tailor their preparation solely to Indiana, a familiar opponent from earlier this season and from years past.
“We had three new foreign girls who came this semester, so toward the beginning we were really focusing on the basics, but now we’re focusing more on preparing for certain teams,” Fahey said of the transition from playing in tournaments to facing conference opponents. “Every team plays different, every team plays different offense, every team plays defense differently, so we just have to prepare for what we know and what they’ve done in past years.”
Compared to the Trojans’ dominance up to this point, Indiana has had a rough start to its season. Although the Hoosiers beat No. 15 UC San Diego in their season opener, they have conceded all six games since then. When the Trojans and Hoosiers met earlier this season in the UCSB Winter Invite, USC came out on top with an 11-1 victory.
One source of the Hoosiers’ early struggles has been their defense, which has allowed an average of 13.85 goals per game. This is problematic when facing a Trojan team with numerous scoring threats, including last week’s MPSF Newcomer of the Week freshman driver Alejandra Aznar. Aznar scored in all four games during last weekend’s Triton Invitational championship campaign, demonstrating her ability to perform against opponents of all calibers.
Even if Indiana’s defense can contain the Women of Troy’s offensive firepower, they must also get more creative with their attack in order to put up points against the MPSF’s No. 1 defense. The Hoosiers’ 1-goal performance earlier this season against the Trojans cannot be repeated if they are to have a chance at claiming victory Saturday.
Despite Indiana’s lackluster offensive and defensive efforts thus far, the Trojans aim to avoid overconfidence and use each game as an opportunity for improvement.
“Our goal is just to … not get complacent in our conference play and get better every game, give every team the best that we can, and win a national championship,” Fahey said.
The Trojans will host the Hoosiers at 4 p.m. Saturday at Uytengsu Aquatic Center. After this conference game, the Trojans will head to an invite in Irvine before facing more MPSF action in March.