Trojans win four straight in Tempe

Team captain and redshirt senior driver Denise Mammolito entered the top-20 of USC’s all-time goals list with her goal in the Trojans’ second game against Arizona State. (Alexis Francel | Daily Trojan)

The No. 1 USC women’s water polo team swept both competitors at the ASU Invitational in Scottsdale, Ariz. this weekend, picking up four wins to put them at a perfect 5-0 record on the season. 

Despite not competing for almost two weeks, the Trojans were able to hold off a No. 4 Arizona State team that has had some of the most consistent practice of any during the pandemic, and a No. 6 Michigan team looking to earn its first victory over USC in the program’s history. 

In their first matchup of the weekend bright and early Friday morning, the Trojans turned a one-point halftime lead into a 16-8 blowout against the Sun Devils. After junior driver Grace Tehaney secured the 8-7 lead at halftime by sneaking in a point on a 6-on-5, the Trojan defense allowed only one point from the Sun Devils in the second — on a 5-meter penalty shot from ASU that kept USC redshirt senior goalie Holly Parker’s save percentage at over .500. 

The Sun Devils brought new talent into the fold and experimented with different sub rotations, something USC also tested to get newcomers some early-season experience, head coach Marko Pintaric said. 

“Both opponents are very respectful and they’re good opponents. So, we try to give as much playing time — so that’s why some scores might be better, might be worse,” Pintaric said. “I think for all three teams, this was a very, very good tournament and very good test going into the season.”

MPSF player of the week redshirt senior utility Maud Megens matched her five-goal performance against Irvine in this game, bringing her into USC’s all-time top-ten in career goals with 173. Behind Megens’ strong scoring performance was redshirt senior driver Kelsey McIntosh who had a hat trick of her own. Tehaney, sophomore driver Téa Poljak, senior driver Verica Bakoc and redshirt senior driver Denise Mammolito all sent two goals to the back of the net as well.   

The strong offense would continue to perform in the next games, though the Sun Devils and Wolverines found ways to slow down the Trojan offense.

“We were not happy then again with our offense, our offense was not as crisp, we missed a lot of easy opportunities — we call it a high percentage opportunity,” Pintaric said. “That was something that we addressed that day … so those were the judgements pretty much that we were interested in throughout the tournament.”

Saturday’s schedule was dotted with USC’s second game against ASU in the morning and its first against Michigan in the afternoon. 

The morning matchup was much tighter than the Trojans’ first win over the Sun Devils Friday. Both teams started slow offensively but USC picked up momentum in the second period after a huge 5-meter penalty save from sophomore goalie Carolyne Stern. Up three heading into the second half, the Trojans’ single goal in the third from Mammolito put the team captain in USC’s top-20 career scoring list with 128 goals to her name. 

Defensive falters in the fourth allowed the Sun Devils to close up the gap with two 6-on-5 conversions with a minute to go, but USC held it down until the buzzer to capture another win at 6-5. 

Later in the day the Trojans went up against a slow-to-start Michigan, gaining a 3-point lead over the Wolverines, including one from freshman 2-meter Hannah Meyer, her first as a Trojan. Junior 2-meter All-American Mireia Guiral shined in the third after earning a hat trick and a 8-4 lead going into the fourth. Both teams went goal-for-goal as the clock wound down but the Trojans held their own for a 10-6 win. 

This was Guiral’s first performance with the Trojans after a year’s absence due to training with the Spanish national team. 

To build on the high scoring over the course of the invitational, the Trojans went even further Sunday morning against the Wolverines with three players — junior utility Bayley Weber, Tehaney and Megens — securing USC’s lead with a hat trick each. The Trojan field defensive remained steady as some of the only points Michigan was able to tally came from 5-meter or 6-on-5 conversions. 

Like USC, Michigan is a physical team known for their hard press and drives. Adapting the Trojans’ offense to spread and handle that pressure without giving up exclusions will be part of their training for the next few weeks. 

“Michigan drew a lot of penalties on us as well,” Pintaric said. “Even in the second game, they open up every quarter with a penalty. And again, we review film — it was just [an] obvious little mistakes. But again, those little mistakes can actually cost you later. So we’re going to address those issues immediately and try to fix them.”

Up next for the Trojans is another long waiting period until their first MPSF conference matches March 20-21 against No. 8 Cal on the road. The Bears are also undefeated with a 4-0 record but face tough upcoming matchups against UC Santa Barbara and UCLA that’ll give the Trojans an opportunity to study up on the Gauchos’ game strategy against higher-ranked teams.