USC Motors Into NCAA Final With 9-6 Semifinal Win Over Michigan|
May 14, 2016
WESTWOOD, CALIF. -- The USC women's water polo team punched a ticked to the NCAA championship game for the first time since 2013 after taking out Michigan with a 9-6 win in today's NCAA semifinals. The top-seeded Trojans carry a perfect 25-0 record into tomorrow's 5:30 p.m. title match, looking to finish off the program's second undefeated season and claim a fifth national championship. The 2016 NCAA final presents a rematch of the 2013 championship bout, which USC won in a triple sudden-death decision over Stanford. The Trojans and the Cardinal will tangle for the NCAA crown tomorrow (May 15) at 5:30 p.m. at UCLA's Spieker Aquatics Center in Westwood, Calif.
In order to break back to the NCAA title match, USC first had to figure out a winning path through a tough Michigan team in today's semifinals. The Wolverines sliced the Trojans' lead down to one on three occasions, trimming it to a 4-3 margin early in the third period before USC was able to create some space and cling to it. Back-to-back blasts from Avery Peterson and Stephania Haralabidis hauled the Trojans out to a three-goal advantage, and USC would stay in control the rest of the way.
A commanding tone was set from the start by USC's Brigitta Games, who carried the Trojans to an early 2-0 lead with a pair of power moves for searing scores out of set. A well-placed Michigan score tugged it to a one-goal game next, and a stalemate would ensue for the next 12 minutes of intensely defensive action. Finally, with 2:07 on the clock in the second period, Melissa Bergesen hit Ioanna Haralabidis for a rocket on a USC 6-on-5 to build the USC advantage to 3-1. In the final minute of the half, however, Michigan converted on a counterattack, and it would be a one-goal game once more with a 3-2 score at halftime.
The tug-of-war continued out of the gates in the second as both teams got into a more offensive groove. Avery Peterson got USC up on an early 6-on-5, prompting Daboub to serve up a pass for Stephania Haralabidis, who hammered it home to make it 4-2 Trojans. Not 20 seconds later, Michigan had matched the Trojans again, zipping in a goal to close the gap to 4-3. The USC defense would hold its ground against Michigan's next power play, with Nikki Stansfield nabbing the steal as the teams pulled even. Soon after, Peterson was pumping in a hard-earned goal out of two-meters, and the Stansfield would serve up an assist to Stephania Haralabidis, who spun and scored a slick goal to take USC to a 6-3 lead midway through the third. A power play score from Michigan stopped USC's scoring run, but the Trojans had another push at the ready. Daboub delivered again, setting up Games for her third impressive goal of the game. Next, after another defensive stand by USC, Peterson popped the ball out to Bergesen, who found Annika Jensen for a nearside ripper that carried the Trojans to an 8-4 lead. As the third came to a close, Michigan found one more goal to wrap a busy frame with USC up 8-5.
The final frame looked to be another defensive stalemate until Bergesen went on a solo mission in the final minute of play, making her move and slotting the shot through to tug the Trojans ahead 9-5. With nine saves under her cap, USC's freshman goalie Amanda Longan would step out of the cage at that stage, making way for senior Alegra Hueso to cap up for NCAA action. With just 36 seconds left to play, USC got tagged with a 5-meter penalty, giving Michigan one last shot on goal, which the Wolverines deposited to wrap the game with USC holding a 9-6 final victory to ring up a spot in the title match.
The 2016 NCAA championship between USC and Stanford is set for 5:30 p.m. tomorrow (May 14) at UCLA's Spieker Aquatics Complex in Westwood. The Trojans and the Cardinal will be meeting in the NCAA final for the fourth time in the past seven seasons. USC beat Stanford for the 2010 and 2013 crowns, while the Cardinal beat the Trojans for the 2012 title. USC is looking to upset the defending champions in order to add to the Trojans' count of four national women's water polo titles and the university's totals of 124 national team championships and 102 NCAA team trophies.