Water polo looks to recover from first season loss

After Stanford snapped USC’s 36-game win streak last weekend, the No. 2 Trojans look to recover in Berkeley this Saturday when they face No. 5 Cal.

Although the Trojans have defeated the Golden Bears in their last 18 meetings, Cal’s recent performance suggests they will put up a fight this weekend. The Bears are 13-4 on the season and are looking ahead for a conference win following their 5-6 loss to Hawaii this past weekend.

Despite their dominant start to the season, the Trojans relinquished their spot on top of the NCAA rankings after losing to Stanford. Although USC was in command for much of the game, the Cardinal outscored them 4-1 in the fourth period to force overtime.

“We really need to improve our 5-on-6 defense and our defensive fast break,” sophomore driver Paige Hauschild said. “That’s how [Stanford] got several of their goals at the end. Those two things were our two major takeaways for when we play Cal because they’re also a really fast team and a really talented team with some good shooters.”

The Stanford game was not the first time USC entered the final minutes of a game with a substantial lead that was threatened by its opponent. When they last faced Cal at the Barbara Kalbus Invitational in February, the Trojans amassed a three-goal lead with just five minutes left, but Cal mounted the pressure by scoring two late goals. Given Cal’s ability to come back late in games, it is important that the Trojans do not become complacent if they have a lead this Saturday.

Cal’s top scoring threat is junior attacker Emma Wright, who sits at second in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation with 2.86 goals per game this season. Despite Wright’s impressive scoring numbers, Cal ranks fourth out of the seven MPSF teams in goals scored per game with 10.71. In comparison, the Trojan offense averages 14.38 goals per game. Regardless, USC’s senior goalie Amanda Longan, the MPSF leader in both goals and saves, must deliver a peak performance this Saturday to silence Wright and Cal’s offense.

“I think a big thing for us is just shutting down their key players,” Hauschild said. “[We need to force] some of their less experienced players to score their goals and put them in scoring situations.”

Cal has also struggled with limiting its opponents’ scoring opportunities. Its defense concedes an average of 8.65 goals per game, compared to the 4.14 goals on average the Trojans allowed on defense. Cal’s susceptibility on defense has resulted in several close contests this season, and is an area the Trojans must take advantage of to be successful this weekend.

“We’re a really fast team, and we have a ton of really good shooters, so we need to push our counterattack more,” Hauschild said. “That’s something that I thought we did [really well] against Hawaii, and we could have done a lot better versus Stanford. I think that pushing the counterattack will be a big thing for us in trying to get one-on-nobody opportunities.”

The Trojans will play Cal Saturday at 1:30 p.m. in Berkeley. Following this game, the Trojans will have just two more conference matches before the postseason.

“The rest of the season, it’s getting down to the line,” Hauschild said. “We just want to go into NCAAs with the highest ranking we can, so it gives us the best opportunities in NCAAs. And [we want to] obviously just win the national championship.”