After achieving a decisive victory two weeks ago in their first game under interim head coach Casey Moon, the No. 1 USC women’s water polo team seeks to extend its undefeated streak to 37 games when it takes on No. 2 Stanford Saturday.
The Cardinal are 14-1 this season, with their only loss being against USC in the Barbara Kalbus Invitational championship match earlier this season. Although the Trojans have prevailed in their last four games against the Cardinal, the team is preparing harder than ever for this weekend to counter Stanford’s strength on both ends of the pool.
Stanford’s offensive firepower poses a threat to any opponent. The Cardinal’s 17.43 goals per game leads the MPSF by a considerable margin, with USC as the second leading scorer at 14.70 goals per game. Stanford also boasts seven of the top 25 scorers in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation, while only three USC players have achieved the same rank. The Trojan defense should be especially wary of junior driver Makenzie Fischer, whose 3.92 goals per game tops the MPSF.
“Trying to stop their top shooters and trying to slow down their fast break [are] the biggest [priorities] because they’re really good in the counter, and they have some good shooters,” senior captain and goalie Amanda Longan said. “Especially [Fischer]. She’s got a sniper on her, so we have to make sure we rule those [shooters] out.”
Fortunately for the Trojans, Longan is having a stellar season in goal, giving up just 3.86 goals per game while averaging 10.95 saves. In conjunction with her philosophy to lead by example, Longan also plays an important role in keeping her teammates’ intensity high.
“Obviously, I hope I can stop all the shots that come my way, but I hope I can keep our spirits high throughout the game, more importantly,” Longan said. “And regardless of how the game goes, I can help keep the team moving forward. That’s the biggest concern for me right now: keeping our spirits up and keeping us motivated to go, go, go regardless of how the score looks.”
Maintaining this sense of unity was important for the team these past couple of weeks after the unexpected termination of head coach Jovan Vavic for his alleged involvement in the college admissions bribery scheme. Vavic had led the women’s water polo program at USC since its inception. Despite staffing changes, the Trojans are back to business as usual and are preparing to face Stanford with heightened intensity under Moon’s leadership.
“The preparation is all the same because Casey was taught by Jovan and everything we’ve done around here has been with Casey as well,” Longan said. “If anything, we’re making sure we’re a lot more dialed in and more accountable for knowing our responsibilities and knowing the strengths and weaknesses of us and Stanford.”
Along with consistent leaders like Longan and senior co-captain and driver Courtney Fahey, the new crop of Trojans has yielded several standouts this season, including freshman two-meter Alejandra Aznar. Aznar garnered her second MPSF Newcomer of the Week award following the Trojans’ last game against Hawaii, in which she scored twice and earned a penalty shot for her team. Aznar and the Trojans’ other young talent will need to contribute to the Trojans’ scoring efforts Saturday in order to counter Stanford’s potent offense.
Saturday’s MPSF duel will take place 2 p.m. at Uytengsu Aquatic Center. After that, the competition remains stiff as the Trojans travel to take on Cal next weekend.