The No. 1 USC women’s water polo team will begin its search for another national title with opening tilts against California Baptist and Concordia at the CBU Mini Invitational Saturday.
After finishing 2019 with a nail-biting 1-point loss to Stanford in the NCAA Championship match, USC will have to continue its historic winning ways to maintain the No. 1 preseason ranking in the coaches poll ahead of MPSF rivals like No. 2 UCLA, No. 3 Stanford and No. 4 California.
“I think this is the resilience, [the] determination of the team, the culture and the program that we stand for,” head coach Marko Pintaric said. “And I didn’t see things change even though our senior class graduated. Even though we didn’t win a national championship, we didn’t achieve our goal … we just started a new season, exact same goals, exact same ideas to keep building the same culture.”
The team will have to accommodate the loss of the four Trojans taking the season off to join their respective countries’ 2020 Olympic campaigns.
But even with sophomore driver Alejandra Aznar, junior driver Paige Hauschild, senior utility Maud Megens and sophomore 2-meter Tilly Kearns sitting out, Pintaric has seen the remaining players step up to fill the gaps.
“We are lucky that our senior group is again very, very much team-oriented,” Pintaric said. “They’re great leaders, they’re [the] coaches’ voice in the locker room, same as we had on the boys’ side. And I’m very pleased as a coach and happy and lucky.”
The returning group will consist of All-American senior drivers Denise Mammolito and Kelsey McIntosh, who racked up 29 and 34 goals last season, respectively. Along with MPSF All-Newcomer sophomore utility Bayley Weber, sophomore utility Mireia Guiral and sophomore driver Grace Tehaney will be the returning players from last year’s NCAA title match against Stanford.
All three tallied 20 or more goals last season over 20, 18 and 14 games, respectively.
Although the team faces an additional loss with goalie Amanda Longan having graduated this past year, there is no shortage of talented players that have been working to fill her place. Redshirt junior Holly Parker is the most senior of the goalie group and tallied 8.2 saves per game over 13 appearances last season.
After redshirting her first season, freshman Erin Tharp will aim to get some time in the cage along with freshmen Carolyne Stern and Avrey Larson.
The group will form the backbone of the defensive effort that has shaped much of USC’s philosophy.
“For us, it’s always defense and we try to be that team,” Pintaric said. “Amanda graduated, [an] All-American goalie. So, [Parker], you know, she’s stepping into a role. A couple of younger goalies [are] pushing her under and everything is going backward from defense into offense.”
This weekend and the majority of February will be filled with invitational games, as the Trojans will head to Riverside, San Diego and Irvine for the CBU, Triton and Barbara Kalbus Invitationals. Pintaric said other games will be added to bulk up the team’s schedule before facing more of its ranked rivals later in March and April.
“We are adding more games as we go,” Pintaric said. “As you know, same as with the boy’s season, the situation we found ourselves [in] didn’t allow us to work on a schedule to fill up potentials like in the past.”
USC’s opening match against Cal Baptist Saturday at 12:45 p.m. will kick off what looks to be a promising season for the Trojans.