Women’s water polo seeks win against Anteaters

The Trojans see Saturday’s match as an opportunity to boost their confidence.

Senior attacker Julia Janov has scored multiple goals in five of her six games so far this season, and Janov is tied for the team lead with 18 points. (Louis Chen / Daily Trojan)

After falling from No. 1 in the Collegiate Water Polo Association Women’s Varsity Poll following two losses in the Triton Invitational, No. 5 USC (4-2, 0-0 Mountain Pacific Sports Federation) is set to face off against No. 10 UC Irvine (4-5, 0-0 Big West). 

“Those two losses are not what coaches want, but I think it was really good for us,” said Head Coach Casey Moon in an interview with the Daily Trojan. “Our preparation [for Saturday] has been really good. We’re trying to find roles, trying to play puzzle piece, but the team is together and our ultimate goal is to improve every day.”

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The two teams participated in the Triton Invitational but did not meet during the tournament. The Trojans made it to the semifinals before dropping to No. 3 California State University, Fresno  (8-3, 0-0 Golden Coast) and losing the third-place matchup against No. 2 University of Hawai’i at Manoa (8-1, 0-0 Big West). Saturday’s match will be the fourth consecutive game that USC has faced a top-10 school.  

“To play more experienced teams, play tougher games and to put my team in some adversity really will help grow some experience and gain some knowledge for my players,” Moon said. “Playing tougher teams is what I like and prefer, and hopefully it’s gonna help us.”

UC Irvine fell early in the group stages to Fresno State and No. 8 Michigan (6-5, 1-0 CWPA) before securing a win against No. 18 UC Davis (2-11, 0-0 Big West) in the Triton Invitational.

Still, both teams do not have winning momentum heading into Saturday’s game. The Anteaters lost 5-16 to No. 1 UCLA (9-0, 0-0 MPSF). In that loss, sophomore center Maja Layden scored two goals, making it her fourth consecutive game with at least one goal. Securing a win this weekend could prove beneficial to both teams as they enter the Barbara Kalbus Invitational following their matchup.

“A win would be a way for us to build confidence,” said senior attacker Julia Janov. “Using that and seeing what we did right in any level of the game could contribute to higher tournament levels.”

USC may not have seen a top-three finish, but the team had notable performances from several players during the Triton Invitational. Redshirt senior goalie Carolyne Stern saved 35 shots across the tournament, and Janov tallied seven goals in four games. Younger team members were very active as well, with freshman attacker Ava Stryker scoring eight goals, six coming against Michigan. 

Many freshmen have stepped up for the Trojans to start off the season. Stryker has scored 10 goals this season, the third-most goals on the team. The current scoring leader is freshman center Rachel Gazzaniga with a total of 13 goals, nine of which were scored during the last tournament. Freshman attacker Meghan McAninch has also seen success during the sprint as she is 3-0. 

“The freshmen are super creative,” Janov said. “We just communicate with each other … and we all get along really well so that helps in the pool. We all just work hard for each other.”

Last season, the Trojans faced the Anteaters in a scrimmage and in two official matches. In both official matchups, USC defeated UC Irvine. The first was a 15-8 victory during the 2023 Triton Invitational, and the second was a 16-5 victory at home. Sophomore attacker Maggie Johnson, who scored with two assists in the second matchup against UC Irvine, looks forward to the rematch. 

“We’re just really excited to play together as a group, and every day our focus has been getting 1% better,” Johnson said. “Trying to put the best version of ourselves out there on Saturdays is the goal.”

USC will take on UC Irvine at Anteater Aquatics Complex on Feb. 17 at noon. 

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