Water polo faces crosstown rival

Senior driver Téa Poljak has appeared in all 25 games for the Trojans this season. The Huntington Beach native has scored 23 goals this season, with her season-high coming against Whittier, scoring three goals. (Drake Lee | Daily Trojan)

After picking up two more wins last week, No. 1 USC women’s water polo will close the regular season with an away match against No. 3 UCLA. A Trojan victory would give USC their second one-loss regular season in the past three years. 

“It’s a complete team effort and we are super deep in each position and determined to play defense,” said Head Coach Marko Pintaric. “These are the consistent things that helped the team win games this season.”

Pintaric’s 24-1 Trojans have scored 249 more goals than their opponents in all head-to-head matchups combined. USC is shooting 60.8% on the season, while their competitors score on 33.8% of their shots against the Trojans. Five Trojans have 32 goals or more. 

“We’re really in it to win it and we have our last game against UCLA and then MPSF and then NCAA,” said redshirt senior driver Grace Tehaney. “So we’re here for the long run.”

Tehaney has a team-leading 24 assists and ranks 15th on the USC all-time leaderboard with 160 career goals. The California native also has 20 steals on the season. 

Tehaney’s teammate, redshirt senior driver Paige Hauschild, also has 20 swipes to go along with 32 goals and 23 assists. Hauschild is also a perfect 36-0 in sprints, the only qualified player in NCAA Women’s Water Polo that is undefeated in opening dashes.

Redshirt senior utility Bayley Weber leads the team and the MPSF with 64 goals. In addition to being one of 20 players in the NCAA on the Cutino Award Watch List, Weber is ninth on the USC all-time leaderboard with 207 career goals.

In the cage, senior goalie Carolyne Stern has 152 saves and 20 steals. Opponents average 7.15 goals against the California native, the ninth-lowest mark in the nation.

“For the entire year, we’ve been wanting to win for our seniors, so this year is super special considering we have a lot of seniors,” Stern said. “We’re ready to dominate for the rest of the season.”

Stern and the Trojans will face crosstown-rival UCLA on Saturday. The Bruins are 19-4 overall and 4-1 in the MPSF.

USC has already defeated UCLA in a 10-8 overtime victory at the Triton Invitational and a 13-10 contest at the Barbara Kalbus Invitational. 

“Everybody loves to beat UCLA, especially USC,” Stern said. “The tradition has been like that for a long time. And for us, it’s all mental, like, ‘who wants it more’ and we’re definitely in it to win it.”

In the first game, USC was down 8-6 to UCLA in the fourth quarter before the Trojans rattled off two goals to force overtime. Hauschild delivered the go-ahead blast in the extra period to give the Trojans a hard-fought victory.

USC never trailed in its second win against the Bruins as redshirt junior 2-meter Tilly Kearns scored a season-high four goals in a single game. 

“Tactics is to really know the player personnel to really understand and really study the matchups and really not allow UCLA to exploit our advantages or disadvantages in defense and offense,” Pintaric said.

For the Bruins, sophomore attacker Emma Lineback has a team-leading 43 goals on the season. Freshman utility Anna Pearson is close behind with 37 successful strikes. 

Defensively, redshirt senior goalkeeper Georgia Phillips holds down the cage. In the MPSF, Phillips is slightly ahead of Stern with 6.39 saves per game.

“This week, we’re watching a lot of films on them and we’re studying them pretty hard,” Tehaney said. “It’s their Senior Day, which makes us want to win it more.”

USC will finish up its regular season against UCLA at noon Saturday at Spieker Aquatics Center.