Water Polo prepares for year-end tourney
After going 25-1 during the regular season and 6-0 in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation, USC will look to defend their No. 1 Seed in the conference tournament. The Trojans last won the tourney in 2021, defeating Stanford in the final round. That was also the year when they won their seventh national championship.
“Right now, this is where the real season starts,” said Head Coach Marko Pintaric. “So, we already stressed the importance of game preparation and the team is improving their work every day at a time and they’re looking very happy for what to happen.”
Several players from the 2021 team remain, including redshirt senior driver Paige Hauschild, who is on the Cutino Award Watch List. The Olympic gold medalist has a team-leading 29 assists and is fourth with 35 goals.
Hauschild is also the only qualified collegiate women’s water polo player to be undefeated in sprints. Against UCLA last Saturday, the reigning MPSF Player of the Week scored three goals and recorded six assists.
“I know all the stats and everything looked impressive on my part, but definitely, my team makes it easy for me,” Hauschild said. “They made me look good on Saturday, but it was really a team effort.”
Redshirt senior utility Bayley Weber was also on the 2021 roster. The California native is first on the team with 64 goals and is ninth on the USC career scoring leaderboard with 207 goals. However, she has not scored in USC’s previous two games.
Aside from Weber, redshirt junior 2-meter Tilly Kearns has 55 goals on the season after a five-goal performance against UCLA. The Australian Olympian also has a team-leading 31 steals.
“I always say that a center is as good as the passes that she gets from her perimeter players,” Kearns said. “I’ve got a big group of girls to thank for those successes.”
In the cage, senior goalie Carolyne Stern allows an average of 7.15 goals per game, the 8th-best average in collegiate women’s water polo. With 358 career saves, Stern has the eighth-most in USC history.
“We always say that defense fuels our offense, so that has been our main focus of our trainings recently,” Hauschild said. “But I think whenever we come out with energy, whenever we come out with that fire, I think we’re a pretty hard team to beat.”
Since USC is the No. 1 seed in the MPSF Tournament, the Trojans receive a bye for the first round. On Saturday, USC will face the winner of No. 6 UC Berkeley vs. No. 15 Indiana in the MPSF Semifinals.
Cal is 17-8 overall and 3-3 in conference play. Senior goalie Isabel Williams leads the MPSF with 46 steals and 231 saves. The Trojans defeated Cal 15-14 earlier in the season at the Spieker Aquatics Complex. Kearns provided the winning blast with seven seconds left in overtime.
“We work on little things like snapping to the ball and finishing where the goal isn’t,” Kearns said. “It sounds stupid, but it’s those little things that ultimately score the goal or get the ejection and things like that.”
Indiana is 17-12 overall and 2-4 in the MPSF. Senior utility Zoe Crouch has a team-leading 40 goals for the Hoosiers. Sophomore Sophia Sollie is close behind with 38.
“We have a lot of intel on both teams, and what we are adjusting is our matchups that the players that we’re going to play throughout the tournament,” Pintaric said. “The last four weeks, we were getting ready and training in that tempo with those rotations.”
USC is 13-1 in games played at neutral sites this season and 10-1 against teams in the tournament.
The Trojans will begin tournament play on Saturday at 2:30 p.m. at the Spartan Recreation Aquatics Center in San Jose against Cal or Indiana before playing on Sunday.