The No. 1 women’s water polo team continued its winning streak with a decisive 12-8 victory over No. 5 Hawaii Saturday at the Duke Kahanamoka Aquatic Center in Honolulu. With this victory, USC improved to a 20-0 record for the season.
Junior utility Maud Megens had 5 goals to lead the Trojans offensively, while senior goalie Amanda Longan manned the cage with nine saves.
Although the Rainbow Wahine scored the first point of the game, the Trojans fired back quickly with 3 consecutive points from sophomore driver Paige Hauschild and freshman driver Grace Tehaney to set the tone for the rest of the match. After Hawaii scored another goal, USC went on to net 7 straight points, 5 of which came from Megens, to set the score at 10-2 with 2:28 left in the third period. The Rainbow Wahine made a comeback with 4 goals in the fourth period, but it was too little, too late for the team to outscore the Trojans.
“I think toward the end of the game — and I think this comes with all athletic sports — when you have a big comfortable lead, obviously your focus kind of drops a bit, and you’re kind of on cruise control and that just comes down to discipline,” interim head coach Casey Moon said. “Do you fault the girls? No, but we’ve got to minimize that fault and prepare for future games to come.”
Moon said the team had to take Hawaii seriously, especially in an unfriendly setting.
“We’ve been preparing for them for the past week as well as when we were back at ’SC,” Moon said. “Hawaii is a dangerous team playing here at home, they’ve had some close games with a lot of other big [Mountain Pacific Sports Federation] schools.”
The Trojans had to shut down two of Hawaii’s best players, senior attacker Irene Gonzalez and junior center Elyse Lemay-Lavoie. They did their best to deny those two players the ball with swarming double teams.
“We had to focus on our defensive end to make sure our matchups were set to minimize them touching the ball,” Moon said.
Gonzalez and Lemay-Lavoie had 3 and 2 goals, respectively, to lead the Rainbow Wahines in scoring, while freshman goalie Bridget Layburn logged eight saves in the net.
The Trojans pulled out this win amid controversy involving the team’s recruitment efforts. Former head coach Jovan Vavic was arrested by the FBI around 6:30 a.m. on March 12, when the team was already in Hawaii for the match. Vavic — who was indicted for his involvement in the “Operation Varsity Blues” college admissions scandal — was fired by USC that afternoon.
Despite the turmoil, the Trojans entered the match with high energy.
“The excitement that we had starting the game was great,” Moon said. “I think that excitement kind of comes from our two senior leaders who are our captains, Amanda Longan and [driver] Courtney Fahey. They know what we’re about, they know what this program stands for. While we were here, it’s been a great opportunity for [the team] to bond and yes, water polo is just a game, but it’s an opportunity for them to bond and truly play for one another and enjoy doing it.”
With an undefeated record well into the season, and not having lost to Hawaii since 2006, Moon said the leadership of veteran team members kept the Trojans from growing complacent.
“It comes from our leaders, the girls who have been with this program and understand what we’re about and that for us, these games are important, but these are just games to help us for the big picture,” Moon said.
Moon said he believes the Trojans can achieve their ultimate goal of winning back-to-back national championships, something the team has never done before.
“I think we have a special group of girls here to be able to make it happen,” he said.
USC returns home to host Stanford at 2 p.m. March 30 at Uytengsu Aquatics Center. The game will be broadcasted on the Pac-12 Network.