Women’s water polo returns home to face UC Berkeley

The Trojans face their toughest at-home test of the season.

The Trojans are rearing up to jump into their home pool for only the second time this season. USC has played 16 of its 17 games in opposing or neutral waters thus far. (Louis Chen / Daily Trojan)

After falling to No. 4 University of Hawaiʻi at Manoa (13-3, 1-0 Big West), the No. 5 USC Trojans (13-4) will look to bounce back this week with a conference matchup in just their second home game this season. 

“We had a tough one in Hawaiʻi, but it’s [a] short memory, and we got to prepare for a very good team,” said Head Coach Casey Moon in an interview with the Daily Trojan. “[Cal is] No. 2 in the country, so it’d be a big challenge for us to play in our home pool. 

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Facing off against No. 2 UC Berkeley (11-3, 1-0 Mountain Pacific Sports Federation), this will be the Trojans’ sixth match against a top-five ranked team this season. The Golden Bears are riding a three-game win streak, including a notable victory over Hawaiʻi and blowouts over No. 12 Indiana (18-5, 0-2 MPSF) and No. 21 University of the Pacific (12-8, 1-2 Golden Coast Conference). 

However, Moon remains adamant about his team’s ability despite this momentum for Cal.

“They’re an experienced group, so kudos to their players as well as their coaching staff,” Moon said. “But again, I’m excited with the group that I have. From [the] very beginning [of] the season to now, we’ve grown for the better. Our playability as a group has grown [so] it’s a big test to see what is ahead of us.”

USC’s offensive talent has been on full display this season, with four players with more than 30 goals, providing the Trojans with one of the top offenses in water polo. They’ve been led by stand-out freshman center Rachel Gazzaniga, whose 35 goals provide a dominant presence in front of the cage. On the 0utside, the attacker trio of freshman Ava Stryker, redshirt senior Alejandra Aznar and senior Julia Janov provide the Trojans with a balanced attack from all sides of the pool.

For the visiting Bears, senior attacker Mayrn Dempsey leads the team in goals with 22. Not far behind her, redshirt junior Elena Flynn and freshman center Feline Voordouw sit with 18 and 16 goals, respectively. 

Despite this, sophomore attacker Maggie Johnson affirmed the team’s priority heading into the matchup is more on itself than its opponent.

“The focus is always on us,” Johnson said. “Obviously, Cal has tons of great players and has had a lot of success this year on both sides of the ball, but the focus throughout this whole year has been us and trying to get better every day.

The Trojans have spent most of the season away from their home pool, competing in just one game thus far in front of their home crowd. As a result, the rare opportunity to play at home has given the team an extra boost of confidence. 

Games at home are super exciting for us and it’s a great opportunity for us to just grow as a group,” Johnson said. “I have all the confidence in the world in this team. And I think we’re just super excited to play anyone.”

USC comes into the match having won seven of the last eight games, completing a sweep of its opponents by a combined score of 63-22 at the Convergence Tournament. This success, alongside the team’s previous showing at the four tournaments/invitationals, has given a glimpse at the team’s potential. 

“We have a really talented young core with a handful of veteran players,” Moon said. “So this ability to play with each other, to coexist [and] utilize their strengths … has been the message when we first started to now. Our trajectory is only going to get better from here.”

USC will host Cal at Uytengsu Aquatics Center on Saturday at noon. 

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