2017 USC Women's Water Polo Outlook: Championship Chemistry Returns To Troy|
Jan. 19, 2017
While other programs have been eagerly anticipating the return of players who pursued Olympic dreams last year, the USC women's water polo team is eagerly anticipating another season alongside the teammates with whom they raised the 2016 NCAA Championship trophy after an undefeated year's work. Jovan Vavic's 2017 Trojans are stacked, only lightly shuffling the deck to include a set of newcomers to join a group already dripping with championship skill and savvy.
The final seconds of USC's 2016 season were rounded out appropriately -- with a heroic effort on the offensive end and one more defensive stop -- an expression of the firepower and the reliability of the Women of Troy last season.
For 2017, it's all back. Peter J. Cutino Award winner Stephania Haralabidis -- who had laced in the championship game-winner for her sixth goal of the title match -- and fellow First Team All-American Amanda Longan -- the lanky freshman who hauled in that final save to secure victory -- are the decorated bookends on a novel grouping of USC athletes ready to hit the water and emerge victorious once again in this 2017 campaign. It's a group that 2016 National Coach of the Year Jovan Vavic is excited about, and extremely confident in.
"I would rather coach our team than any other team," Vavic said. "Each year it comes down to your chemistry, and I like our bond. When you win a title there is always a threat of complacency. Luckily I think we have a competitive group who hate to lose. Also, our depth is better than last year, our size is better, and our experience is better."
All six of USC's 2016 All-Americans return, including captains Brianna Daboub and Avery Peterson. Without a doubt, USC's leadership core is as solid as it gets. Peterson is one of five seniors on the roster for 2017, joined by All-Americans Brigitta Games, Ioanna Haralabidis and Stephania Haralabidis, along with Nikki Stansfield. A further depth charge of veteran talent with winning experience comes from juniors Daboub, Annika Jensen and Hayley McKelvey. All warriors, all competitors, and all fiercely devoted to their team and the task at hand. Games -- a Cutino Award finalist last year -- and Peterson will be tabbed for much of the two-meter duty on the offensive end.
"We won a title because of these girls, and they have been outstanding," Vavic said. "Our seniors have been great. I think that's really they key this season again. If they play to their potential, then we'll be a tough team to beat."
But wait, there's more. Remember that All-American list? There was one freshman standing tall among them -- a hint at the power that a youth movement can have on a team. Granted, Amanda Longan stands tall among most people, as the young goalie looms large at 6-foot-2. An impact player as soon as she splashed down at Troy, Longan quickly made herself at home as half of an impressive goalkeeping tandem for the Trojans and one of a group of five freshmen on that NCAA Championship roster along with Brooke Presten, Courtney Fahey, Dagmar Gudmundsson and Mackenzie Flath.
"Amanda is such a competitive young lady, she makes everyone around her better," Vavic said of Longan. "She really sets the tone for everyone, and she's not used to losing."
Longan and Brazilian Olympian Victória Chamorro shared time the cage in 2016 as USC rattled off its undefeated run to the national championship. Now a junior-sophomore goalkeeping tandem, Chamorro and Longan are yet another expression of the youth movement making waves alongside USC's juniors and seniors.
When it comes to this year's freshman class, Vavic says he has several new faces that will force opponents to take notice. Dutch import Maud Megens seems to be the headliner, boasting an all-around ability that will make her an asset in every spot. With Megens and returning top scorer Stephania Haralabidis in the water together, Vavic says the Trojans have "an incredible one-two punch."
Vavic also is eager to fold freshmen Denise Mammolito, Kelsey McIntosh and Elise Stein into the gameplan. At 6-1, Mammolito brings a long frame, speed and strength to the pool for the Trojans. And McIntosh boasts smarts and vision that Vavic believes will make her a key cog in the Trojan system as well. Stein offers up another dangerous arm to strike from the perimeter for the USC offensive onslaught.
USC's newcomers will get their first induction into the 2017 season as it opens this weekend at the Winter Invitational in Santa Barbara. Safe to say, though, that the Women of Troy open the year more prepared than any team, thanks to the winning chemistry it developed last season.