The No. 3 USC women’s water polo team held off a late-game goal surge from visiting No. 6 UC Irvine this Saturday at its season’s home opener at Uytengsu Aquatics Center to defeat the Anteaters 9-6.
The Trojans came into the first period strong with back-to-back goals from sophomore driver Grace Tehaney, the first within 30 seconds of the opening buzzer. With a goal from senior driver Denise Mammolito on a power play and a 5-meter penalty shot from senior driver Kelsey McIntosh drawn by sophomore 2-meter Mireia Guiral, the Trojans were up with 4 unanswered points. After preventing points from three straight UCI 6-on-5s, the Anteater’s junior attacker Calysa Toledo was able to slip one in to bring the score 4-1 going into halftime.
Tehaney commented on how the Anteater’s hard press from the beginning was something they were prepared to deal with in order to score.
“I think we went into this game knowing that they were going to press us really hard,” Tehaney said. “So driving a lot and just making sure [to get] open, it was a key part. And you knew that they’re a hard-pressing team, so it was knowing beforehand.”
McIntosh would again bring one in to open scoring late in the third after several turnovers and offensive fouls on both sides. With just over 30 seconds left, the Anteaters got one in with sophomore center Piper Smith taking the lead on another power play. The Trojans didn’t let the period end there, with Guiral drawing another 5-meter penalty foul and Mammolito sending one to the back of the cage to bring the game to 6-2.
“I always tell my team to be aggressive,” said head coach Marko Pintaric of the power play opportunities that were missed. “The best way to score in six-on-five is, you know, right at the beginning when a quick, you know, when when defense is not settled yet.“So I emphasize that before the meeting, I think we were not aggressive enough.”
As the fourth brought a four-goal surge from the Anteaters, it would be the Trojan senior line, with key assists from Tehaney, that kept the team from falling under. The Anteaters scored back-to-back on a power play and in even strength within the first few minutes of the period, but Mammolito answered back with a point on the power play. The Anteaters brought another set of back-to-back scores to bring the game to 7-6 with under five minutes to go.
The Trojans were resilient, and senior drivers McIntosh and Elise Stein saw to it that their two goals late in the fourth would go unanswered, along with redshirt junior goalie Holly Parker bringing her save total to 9 to seal the game total at 9-6.
“This was a very, very tough game,” Pintaric said. “And it was a good young team with a lot of young players. And with just losing against UCLA in a close game last weekend, it’s always hard emotionally to come back and play next because this is the home opener. So [the] girls had some pressures on and actually I’m very proud of the girls actually coming up with a victory and because mentally it is very hard to play this game.”
The win puts the Trojans at 7-1 on the season and in good shape to face the Anteaters again in the Barbara Kalbus Invitational this weekend in Irvine, Calif.