USC Looks For Perfect Finish To Perfect Season At 2016 NCAA Tournament|
May 11, 2016
The top-ranked and top-seeded USC women’s water polo team takes aim at putting the finishing touches on a perfect season as the Trojans remain in hot pursuit of a fifth national championship this week. USC (23-0) engages in NCAA Championship action for the 13th straight year and is hoping to complete the program's second undefeated season — last achieved in 2004. The Women of Troy are looking to claim their fifth national championship in this crosstown journey, hoping to add the 2016 trophy to their 1999, 2004, 2010 and 2013 titles. The 2016 National Collegiate Women's Water Polo Championships will take place in Westwood at UCLA's Spieker Aquatics Complex. The 23-0 Trojans will open things with an NCAA Quarterfinal matchup against San Diego State (17-6) at 3:30 p.m. on Friday (May 13). A win there puts USC in a 3:30 p.m. semifinal bout on Saturday (May 14), which will decide who goes on to play for it all. On Sunday (May 15), the NCAA Championship match is set for 5:30 p.m., preceded by the third-place game at 3:30 p.m. All games will have live streaming coverage on ncaa.com with Greg Mescall providing coverage.
USC IN THE RANKINGS
USC opened 2016 ranked No. 3 in the national preseason poll and at No. 2 in the MPSF preseason poll. The Trojans moved up to rank No. 2 on Feb. 10, and rose in the ranks to stand as the No. 1 team in the nation as of the Feb. 17 national poll. The last time USC was ranked No. 1 had been in March 2014. USC remains as the nation’s No. 1 team this week.
USC has won four national championships in program history, with the first coming in 1999 before the NCAA sponsored women’s water polo. In 2004, the Trojans posted the first-ever undefeated season on the way to capturing the 2004 NCAA title. USC’s third title came in 2010 in a championship win over Stanford. Four years later in 2013, the Trojans topped the Cardinal in triple sudden-death overtime — the longest NCAA final in history — to claim a fourth national championship for USC. USC has also finished third in 2005, 2007, 2014 and 2015, placed second in 2006, 2008 and 2009 and 2012, and was fourth in 2011. This year marks USC’s 13th consecutive NCAA appearance and 13th overall, as the Trojans hold an 25-10 all-time record in NCAA tournament play. What’s more, the Women of Troy have a chance to register the university’s 102nd NCAA team championship with a run to this 2016 tourney title.
The Trojans (23-0) earned their place in the tourney as the automatic bid out of the MPSF by winning the championship yesterday in Bakersfield. The rest of the 10-team 2016 NCAA field includes three other MPSF teams — UCLA (24-4), Stanford (21-5) and Arizona State (19-7) — awarded at-large berths, along with the automatic bids won by conference champions around the nation. Those other automatic qualifiers are: Michigan (29-6, Collegiate Water Polo Association), UC Santa Barbara (18-12, Big West Conference), UC San Diego (26-9, Western Water Polo Association), San Diego State (16-16, Gold Coast Conference), Wagner (29-9, Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference) and Whittier (25-7, Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference). On Tuesday (May 10, four teams participated in two play-in games in order to secure quarterfinal slots. That day, San Diego State beat Wagner 7-4 to move into the quarterfinals against USC, while UC San Diego beat Whittier 11-7 to advance to face UCLA on Friday. The other May 13 quarterfinal matchups are set: Michigan (29-6) will take on Arizona State (19-7), while Stanford (21-5) faces UC Santa Barbara (18-12).
THIS TIME LAST YEAR
USC snagged an at-large berth in the 2015 NCAA Championships, taking a 22-5 overall record into the tourney after finishing fourth in the MPSF Tournament. In NCAA action in Palo Alto, USC opened up with a 14-7 win over Hawai'i in the quarterfinals to take a place in the semifinals against host Stanford. The Trojans played a tight one against the Cardinal, but were edged out with a 9-8 loss to move into the third-place game. There, USC and California battled into overtime, where Hayley McKelvey scored to get the Trojans their first lead since the first half before Brigitta Games delivered the game-winner with a score in the second frame of OT to beat the Bears 9-8 and claim third in the NCAA tournament. At the close of the tournament, senior Monica Vavic was named to the NCAA All-Tournament First Team, and senior Eike Daube was named to the NCAA All-Tournament Second Team.
USC captured its fifth MPSF Tournament Championship with two gutsy efforts in Bakersfield. The Trojans would trail at halftime in both the semifinal and final, but both times USC answered the call and put forth a ferocious second-half stand to claim clutch comeback victories. USC's undefeated run through the regular season — including a 6-0 mark in MPSF play — gave the Trojans a first-round bye for the MPSF Tournament. They would meet up against an upset-minded California squad in the semifinals. USC shrugged off a two-goal deficit and then dug out of a one-goal hole at halftime thanks to a powerful defensive stand in the second half. In the last 16 minutes of play, USC shut down the Golden Bears and grabbed the two goals it needed to lock in on its 22nd win of 2016 with a 6-5 comeback victory. Goalie Amanda Longan would pin up 10 second-half saves in her 16 minutes of work, while Brigitta Games and Hayley McKelvey scored twice apiece to lead the Trojan offense. It was McKelvey's last blast with 5:38 left to play that wound up as the game-winner for USC as the Trojan defense took over the rest of the way. In the title match the next day against Stanford, USC had again trailed by two early in the game but later rattled off four straight goals in the fourth quarter to take a commanding lead for a power move to an 8-5 final victory that claimed USC's fourth MPSF Tournament championship. USC’s big guns on the day were decidedly Avery Peterson and Brianna Daboub, who matched each other with three goals apiece while Amanda Longan took control on the defensive end. The freshman goalie amassed 12 saves against Stanford to provide the backbone in USC’s comeback push. At the end of the tournament, Longan was named MPSF Tournament MVP, joined by Brigitta Games and Stephania Haralabidis on the All-Tournament Team.
AIMING FOR PERFECTION
USC's 21-0 record in the 2016 regular season marked the Trojans' third undefeated regular-season finish in program history, also achieved in 2004 and 2006. That 2004 campaign, USC became the first women's team ever to post a full undefeated season, going 29-0 in 2004. In 2006, USC went 24-0 in the regular season before taking its first loss in the MPSF semis. Now, USC is aiming to notch the program's second-ever perfect season. USC (2004) and UCLA (2005 & 2008) are the only women's water polo teams to post a complete undefeated season in NCAA history.
PETERSON PICKS UP THE PACE
Two-meter player Avery Peterson is off to the races in her junior campaign, having already bettered her previous career total with a powerful 33 goals already scored this season alone. She set a new career high for herself with a six-goal game at Whittier on Feb. 6, and has since picked up her first career selection as MPSF Player of the Week. After punching up a hat trick in a key MPSF road win over Arizona State, Peterson earned the weekly award for the first time on March 8. Her most recent hat trick was a big one as the junior came through in the clutch with three goals against Stanford in the MPSF Tournament championship game.
BY THE NUMBERS
Through these 23 games of 2016, undefeated USC has outscored opponents 278-101, leading the MPSF in defense (4.39 gapg) and offense (12.09 gpg). Junior Stephania Haralabidis is the top scorer to date with 55 goals — ranking her No. 8 all-time in career scoring with 177 goals. Just behind her are three fellow juniors. Brigitta Games is next in line with 35 goals to date, followed by Ioanna Haralabidis, who is now well past the century mark and has cracked the top-20 in career goals thanks to her 34 goals scored in 2016. Just behind her is fellow junior Avery Peterson, who has more than doubled her sophomore season total with her 33 goals to date. On the defensive end, freshman goalie Amanda Longan has capped in 15 games and is averaging 10.5 saves and 4.5 goals-against per game in her 46 periods of work. Returning All-American goalie Victória Chamorro has appeared in 38 periods and averages 6.6 saves and 4.8 goals-against per game. Senior goalie Alegra Hueso has allowed only three goals in her eight appearances in the cage to date. The Trojan defense has held opponents silent in at least one period of play in 16 games while accumulating a grand total of 28 shutout periods this season so far, including a complete-game shutout of Redlands on April 9 and a second-half shutdown of Cal in the MPSF semifinals.
For the fourth time in program history, USC women’s water polo has a pair of nominees in line for collegiate water polo’s highest honor. USC juniors Brigitta Games and Stephania Haralabidis have been announced as finalists for the Peter J. Cutino Award, which will be presented in a ceremony at the Olympic Club in San Francisco on June 4. Both All-Americans, Haralabidis and Games represent the remarkable balance on the 2016 USC women’s roster. A left-handed driver, Haralabidis is the team’s top scorer, while two-meter power Games has control in the center position and stands as the Trojans’ second leading scorer. Together, the two Women of Troy have helped their team to an undefeated 23-0 record as they now turn to take aim at a fifth national championship. Games' and Haralabidis status as Cutino Award finalists runs USC’s all-time count of nominees for the honor to 15 finalists. Since USC goalie Bernice Orwig won the inaugural Cutino Award in 1999, there have been a grand total of five Women of Troy to win the award — considered the Heisman Trophy of water polo. Back-to-back winner Kami Craig was the last Trojan to capture the Cutino, having done so in 2009 and 2010. USC’s last finalist was Monica Vavic, who was up for the award in 2013 as the 13th all-time USC nominee. USC has had two finalists for the Cutino Award three other times, in 2006 (Lauren Wenger & Brittany Hayes), 2009 (Kami Craig & Michelle Stein) and 2010 (Kami Craig & Tumua Anae). Past USC women's Cutino Award winners are: Bernice Orwig (1999), Aniko Pelle (2000), Moriah Van Norman (2004), Lauren Wenger (2006) and Kami Craig (2009 & 2010). In her second season at USC, junior two-meter Brigitta Games continues to turn heads as a power player at set. USC’s second leading scorer with 36 goals so far this season and freshly inked with a spot on the MPSF All-Tournament Team, Games just collected her first MPSF award with a spot on the 2016 All-MPSF Second Team. A 2015 ACWPC All-America Honorable Mention recipient and a member of last year’s MPSF All-Newcomer Team, Games has upped her game even more in her junior year. She has struck in 20 different games and also nabbed her first career MPSF Player of the Week accolades this year after a standout effort in an 8-5 rivalry win over UCLA during MPSF play. Recently crowned the MPSF Player of the Year, junior driver Stephania Haralabidis is the Trojans’ top scorer this season with 55 goals to date. In doing so, Haralabidis has bumped up her career count at USC to 177 goals, ranking No. 8 all-time in the history books. Named to the MPSF All-Tournament Team after USC’s run to the 2016 crown last weekend, Haralabidis also picked up a pair of MPSF Player of the Week selections in 2016 as she’s helped pace the Trojans to their undefeated record. She was an MPSF All-Newcomer Team honoree as a freshman and was named to the All-MPSF Second Team last year while currently standing as a two-time ACWPC All-American. This year, Haralabidis has scored in 21 of the 22 games in which she’s played
TROJAN SWEEPS WEEKS
For their efforts in driving the Trojans to perfect performances at the Triton Invitational and UCI Invitational, USC’s Stephania Haralabidis and Amanda Longan have paired up to sweep the MPSF weekly honors twice so far this season. At the Triton Invitational Haralabidis scored nine goals, topping out with a hat trick in the title match, where the Trojans beat No. 1 UCLA 8-6 in the final. In the semifinals, Haralabidis scored twice to help generate a 6-3 win for USC over Arizona State. At the same event, freshman goalie Longan had a strong showing. In her two appearances, Longan collected a total of eight saves — including a 5-meter penalty stop — and allowed only four goals. She made three saves in three periods of work in the opening 20-2 win over Santa Clara and then made five saves in the same stretch of action in USC’s 6-3 semifinal win over ASU. More recently, the duo proved instrumental again in guiding the Trojans to the 2016 UCI Invitational championship. Haralabidis’ 12 goals at the event included a career-high seven goals in a close 11-10 win over host UC Irvine, the game-winner with 5 second left in the 7-6 semifinal win over Stanford, and a hat trick in the 10-7 championship victory over UCLA. Longan, too, came up big in the cage with 10 saves vs. UCI and 10 more against the Bruins. That marked Longan’s third straight week as MPSF Newcomer of the Week, while Haralabidis secured her second MPSF Player of the Week award of 2016 with the pair’s second sweep of the season.
The overall young Trojans have garnered plenty of international experience on the way into this 2016 campaign for USC. Incoming freshman goalie Amanda Longan won gold with Team USA at the 2015 FINA Junior World Championships, where several other Trojans were competing with their respective countries. The Haralabidis sisters, Ioanna and Stephania were in action with Greece; goalie Victória Chamorro capped up for Brazil; and Hayley McKelvey was a high scorer for Canada.
USC’s goalkeeping corps this season is ferociously deep. Sophomore Victória Chamorro set a freshman goalie record last season in hauling in 207 saves in her first year as a Trojan. This year, she’s joined by freshman Amanda Longan, who was named Top Goalkeeper at the 2015 FINA Junior World Championships during the summer. Added veteran experience comes from senior captain Alegra Hueso, who appeared in 27 games during her first three seasons as a Trojan.
OH CAPTAINS, MY CAPTAINS
The most experienced player in the pool this season is junior Avery Peterson — one of three Trojan captains for 2016. Sophomore Brianna Daboub and senior Alegra Hueso also have been selected as team captains for the year. Peterson weighs in as the veteran of the group in that she has logged the most playing time of the bunch. With 20 goals to her name as a Trojan, the 2-meter power was in the water for USC’s last two NCAA Tournament runs. Daboub may just be a sophomore, but her savvy helps her stand out as another key leader for the Trojans this season. She scored 27 goals as a freshman and was named to the 2015 MPSF All-Newcomer Team. A senior, Hueso has been at Troy since her freshman season in 2013, when USC won its last NCAA Championship.
UCI INVITE CHAMPS
USC tacked up another tournament title to remain undefeated in 2016 with a push to the UCI Invitational championship Feb. 27-28. The Trojans opened up with a 13-3 win over CSUN on day one and would wind up in a tough battle against tournament host UC Irvine later that afternoon, pulling off an 11-10 victory to move into Sunday’s semifinals. There, USC stoned No. 4 Stanford with a ferocious 7-6 comeback win to secure a place in the title match. In another title match faceoff with rival UCLA, USC held its ground against the No. 2 Bruins and pinned up a 10-7 victory to win the championship crown. Stephania Haralabidis would come through with the clutch game-winning goals against both UC Irvine and Stanford. She’d finish the tournament with 12 goals, including a career-high seven goals in the tight win over UC Irvine. Amanda Longan and Victória Chamorro would share time in the cage, each capping up for two games apiece. Longan got the call-up for the UC Irvine game and the UCLA faceoff in the final, and would come through with 10 saves in both appearances. For their roles in helping to drive the Trojans to the championship, Stephania Haralabidis and Amanda Longan secured another MPSF sweep of weekly awards, as Haralabidis was named MPSF Player of the Week for the second time and Longan grabbed MPSF Newcomer of the Week honors for the third consecutive week.
2016 TROJANS AT A GLANCE
The Women of Troy are the direction of head coach Jovan Vavic for the 22nd season. USC looks to extend a streak of 12 straight trips to the NCAA Tournament, and the talent is certainly there to make a strong run at a title. Picked No. 2 in the MPSF Preseason Coaches Poll, the Trojans weighed in just a point behind top-picked Stanford. Both the Trojans and the Cardinal each received three first-place votes, hinting at a heated race for the 2016 title to come. USC returns three of its top five scorers from 2015 — Stephania Haralabidis (64 goals), Ioanna Haralabidis (50 goals) and Melissa Bergesen (37 goals) — along with All-American goalie Victória Chamorro and All-American two-meter power Brigitta Games. The Haralabidis twins earned All-American status last season as well. In all, USC returns 11 members of last season’s 16-player NCAA roster. •