The No. 2 USC women’s water polo team capped off the regular season with a narrow 9-8 victory over No. 3 UCLA on Saturday, marking the Trojans’ sixth straight win against the Bruins. The Trojans head into the playoffs with a 23-1 record, including a 5-1 mark in conference play.
Although both teams created some scoring opportunities early on, the Trojans were better able to capitalize on their chances while defending the Bruins’ attack on the other end of the pool. Four different Trojans contributed a goal in the first period, giving USC a 4-2 advantage heading into the second. Senior goalie Amanda Longan came up with a big stop in the final seconds of the quarter on a penalty shot that could have cut the lead to 1.
The Trojans continued to dominate the scoreboard in the second period, widening their lead to 3 goals. In the second half, however, the momentum began to shift in UCLA’s favor. The Bruins scored 2 unanswered goals to bring them within 1 of the Trojans.
As UCLA mounted the pressure, the Trojans recognized the importance of staying focused and adapting their approach to counter the Bruin offense.
“I think we all set our goals straight and really focused on defense,” junior utility Maud Megens said. “We tried to focus more on their important players and play higher on them and let freshmen beat us. I think we did pretty well, although we forgot to play offense a bit.”
Before UCLA could find a tying goal, the Trojans regained a big lead and came out ahead 9-5 at the start of the fourth. Sophomore driver Paige Hauschild played a major role in this offensive surge, delivering 3 straight goals for her team and 4 on the game.
However, this wasn’t enough to put the Bruins away in the final frame. UCLA scored 3 unanswered goals to make the score 9-8 with two minutes to go.
“I think [UCLA] really stepped it up in the fourth quarter and attacked us harder than before,” Megens said. “They posted up a lot of people and we got excluded, so we got into problems because people didn’t want to leave the game with 3 exclusions. We really had to manage and switch on defense, and therefore, it was hard for us to play our own game.”
However, USC was able to close out the game due to some enormous stops from Longan, who had 12 saves on the game.
Despite almost conceding their lead in the final minutes of the game, the Trojans look to be a dangerous team heading into the playoffs.
“I think we really played together as a team,” Megens said. “We set each other up very well, and a lot of players on our team scored. And I think because we’re such a strong team, and anyone can do anything, we can be surprising and unpredictable for other teams.”
By defeating UCLA, the Trojans secured the No. 2 seed in the MPSF tournament in Palo Alto Friday. They will square off against No. 7 Indiana in a quarterfinal match at 11 a.m.
If both USC and UCLA win their first matches this weekend, the two teams could meet again in Saturday’s semifinal game.
“I think we should be aware of the fact that we can’t count on [them playing] the same the whole game,” Megens said. “They can switch up their game, and we should prepare for that, and we should anticipate that with even more effort.”