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A Season of Firsts

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USC women's lacrosse is doing what no team has done before this season, and it's raising the bar to an entirely new level. As the first-ever West Coast NCAA Tournament hosts, the Trojans took down Stanford, 14-8, on Sunday to become the first MPSF team to ever hold a 20-0 record and the first conference representative in the NCAA Quarterfinals.

Click here for a complete recap.

From start to finish the Women of Troy were dominant, holding an opponent to under 10 goals for the 20th time this season and finishing with a hat trick of individual hat tricks. Junior attacker Michaela Michael tallied three goals, two assists and eight draw controls in the victory, marking her 23rd career hat trick. She now has 66 goals on the season, the fourth-most in MPSF single-season history. Junior attacker Kylie Drexel scored her ninth-career hat trick and senior attacker Caroline deLyra finished with her 26th career hat trick to round out the group of high-scoring Trojans.


The Women of Troy now head to Syracuse, New York, to take on Syracuse (18-5) at the Carrier Dome on May 21 at 3 p.m. ET/Noon PT. Be sure to follow @USCTrojansLAX for in-game updates, photos and more throughout USC's historic journey.


Check out all the John McGillen photos from USC lacrosse's 20th win on Sunday...


Scrappy in Second

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For the second straight year, the USC women's track & field team finished second at the Pac-12 Championships to perennial powerhouse Oregon after a hard-fought meet led by USC senior and 2016 Pac-12 Women's Track & Field Scholar-Athlete Jaide Stepter. The men's team finished fifth, with Adoree' Jackson (long jump) winning the Trojan men's sole Pac-12 individual title.



"We had a scrappy weekend, we fought to the bitter end," said USC Director of Track & Field Caryl Smith Gilbert. "We had a lot of bright spots like Jaide and Adoree'. I was very pleased with all the PRs and performances we were able to come away with... Now we are able to go back and train solely for track & field, get rested, get healthy, put our best foot forward for NCAA Round One."

Stepter took home her third consecutive 400m IH Pac-12 title with a PR of 55.22. She is the second Trojan to win three consecutive conference 400m IH titles, joining Olympic medalist Natasha Danvers who accomplished the feat from 1998-2000. The senior teamed with sophomore Kendall Ellis, junior Cameron Pettigrew and sophomore Deanna Hill to win the 4x400m relay in 3:34.14. It was USC's fourth consecutive Pac-12 title in the event. With a final tally of 111.50, the Women of Troy were the only other team besides Oregon to score 100 points in the meet. 

Jackson leaped his way to his second straight Pac-12 long jump title, jumping 25-3.50 to become the first Trojan to win the event title in consecutive seasons since school and conference record holder Randy Williams won it from 1972-1975. The sophomore also scored in the 100m, in which he finished runner-up, the 4x100m relay in which the Trojans ran a season-best 39.74 for the second-place spot, and the 4x400m relay which finished fourth. 

USC came in second in seven different events on Sunday, a disappointing outcome but also an encouraging sign for a team that has a lot to look forward to as NCAA competition begins next week. The Trojans will travel to Lawrence, Kansas for NCAA West Prelims from May 26 to May 28. Athletes who advance to the finals will compete at the NCAA Championships in Oregon from June 8 to June 11. 

Be sure to follow @USC_Track_Field for meet updates, photos and more!

Check out what Stepter had to say on winning her third hurdles title and Pac-12 Women's T&F Scholar-Athlete of the year...

Men's Tennis Feeling Sweet

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No. 10 USC men's tennis held serve at home over the weekend to advance to the NCAA Sweet 16 in Tulsa by beating UNLV, 4-0, and Georgia Tech, 4-2. The Trojans were pushed hard by the Yellow Jackets, but ultimately overcame them thanks to superior depth in their singles lineup.

"Today was a very exciting college tennis match," said head coach Peter Smith about the second round victory. "Georgia Tech gave us all we could handle. Our fight from top to bottom is what our program is all about, and today that took us over the top."

Click here for the recap.

USC will play No. 7 Georgia in the next round on Friday (5 p.m. ET/2 p.m. PT). The Trojans and Bulldogs, who have combined to win seven of the last nine national championships, were scheduled to play earlier this season in Westwood, but the match was rained out.

Here are the John McGillen photos from the fierce fight with Georgia Tech:


Perfection

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USC women's water polo finished off an undefeated season, 26-0, with an NCAA championship by beating Stanford, 8-7, thanks to a game-winning goal by Stephania Haralabidis with only six seconds to play in Westwood. The Women of Troy collected the program's fifth national championship and the 125th all-time for USC (102 NCAA team titles).

Click here for the recap.

The Women of Troy led 7-5 with 52 seconds left after Brianna Daboub provided what appeared to be a comfortable cushion, but Stanford, the defending champions, responded with back-to-back goals to put the match on the precipice of overtime. To win USC's last national championship, back in 2013, the Women of Troy needed five overtimes to overcome the Cardinal, but Haralabidis' championship-winning shot put an end to tonight's drama just before the regulation buzzer.


The goal by Haralabidis was her fifth and final of the match, earning her NCAA Tournament MVP honors. Brigitta Games added two goals, while Amanda Longan made nine saves.

Click here for the Rapid Reaction.

For head coach Jovan Vavic, the history-making never ceases. He has now claimed 14 national titles at USC (nine for the men and five for the women), including four undefeated seasons.

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2016 USC Student-Athlete Graduation

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The 2016 USC Student-Athlete Graduation was a celebration of dedication and perseverance.

For their devotion and commitment to the Trojan Family and the welfare of the student-athletes, athletic director Pat Haden and learning specialist Mimi Butler, the Director of Academic Support and the Directed Studies Program, were given the Legend of Troy Award.

Click here to see the tribute to Pat Haden.

USC women's tennis captain Giuliana Olmos, who started the Rose Cup to battle breast cancer, earned the TAPA Community Service Award.

Click here to see Olmos' speech.

And, All-American WR Robert Woods returned to get his diploma after making a promise to his late sister that he would always serve as a role model.

Click here to see Woods' speech.

Here are all the Pierson Clair photos from the graduation celebration:


Thanks for the Memories!

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It's graduation day for us here on the USC RipsIt Blog as well as we lose Caroline Deisley, who has been an invaluable member of our social media team for three years. She earned her degree in broadcast journalism from the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism with a 3.5 GPA.

Written by Caroline Deisley, USC blog contributor

Graduation brings an overwhelming swell of emotions, from feeling like Holden Caulfield wanting to avoid responsibilities for as long as possible, and feeling like Lewis and Clark ready to blindly embark on a scary, new adventure without any road map showing where to go and how to survive.

IMG_5335.JPGI'm certainly somewhere in the middle, not ready to say goodbye to the amazing experiences, coworkers and friends here at USC, but also extremely excited to continue the #USCtotheNFL tradition of excellence when I begin working for the Denver Broncos digital media team this June.

For a 22-year-old, I've unfortunately said more goodbyes than someone my age should. If I've learned anything from these experiences, it's to focus your attention on all the unbelievably amazing memories that were shared rather than to remind yourself that time has run out for new ones. So instead of remembering that this is my final article, I've decided to highlight some of my favorite memories here, and to thank the people that made these experiences the most worthwhile.

I'll never forget my first post-game interview. I was a timid, nervous sophomore in charge of talking to players after the game. I don't remember anything about the game, who we were playing or the questions I asked. I do remember having to run up the tunnel and chase after Leonard Williams to get him to take his headphones off and do the interview. The only thing I remember from the actual interview was that the future first-round draft pick proceeded to drip sweat on my arm the entire time.

Shortly after either that game or the next, I was also tasked with getting an interview from one of the assistant coaches. This was during the early quarterback battle between Max Wittek and Cody Kessler, so I was trying to interview then-QB coach Clay Helton. I had somehow missed him, and he had already gone to grab his post-game meal. He then came out and while holding one of his children, proceeded to do the entire interview. I'll never forget my first impression of our future head football coach and how generous he was to agree to an interview when all he really wanted to do was celebrate with his family.

I'll also never forget the entire day from start to finish of the epic upset of Stanford two years ago. College GameDay was in town, which meant we had a 4:00 a.m. start time. Running on very little sleep, we proceeded to meet the entire GameDay staff, joke around with Lee Corso and take a photo with the crew on set. From there, we went on to work one of the best USC football games in recent years. After the game ended when the fans stormed the field, I just remember running around having no idea what to do and how to do my job while also wanting to celebrate with the Trojan faithful on the field.

There are countless more memories, from losing our minds in the wee hours of the morning at the NCAA Baseball Regional Final in Lake Elsinore to exploring Seattle entirely on my own with women's basketball to an incredibly unbelievable run to March Madness with the men. I experienced some pretty big moments that I will always remember, but I'm going to miss the random meals, conversations, throwing sessions prior to games and inside jokes the most.

All that being said, I wouldn't have experienced any of these things without a few of you reading this, so I wanted to thank some of you for all that you've done during my time at USC.

To the Trojan Family - Thank you for taking in a southerner straight out of the SEC and turning her into the biggest Cardinal & Gold supporter. There's no better place to be than in the Coliseum on Saturdays in the fall with 90,000 of your closest friends.

To the student-athletes - Thank you for letting me share your stories! We have incredibly special student-athletes here at USC and I've really enjoyed getting to know the ones that I have.

To David "Pops" Scott (Director of Football Equipment Operations) - I didn't officially feel accepted in the athletic department until I had a nickname and I will be forever grateful to you for getting "Boots" to stick and for always putting a smile on my face.

To Tim Tessalone (Sports Information Director) - Thanks for all that you do and for all the life advice, but most importantly thank you for teaching me to never go anywhere without a pen. I will never forget that one.

To Paul Goldberg (Senior Associate Sports Information Director) - Thanks for loving Richard Linklater as much as I do and for all the music/movie recommendations along with all the help over the years.

To John McGillen (Team Photographer) - Thanks for the headshot! Just kidding. Seriously, I'm so glad to have worked with you and all that goes into what may seem like a simple photo shoot.

To Sarah Bergstrom (Assistant Director of Social Media) - I am so thankful that I've been able to work alongside my best friend and share this experience with someone. I don't know what I'd do without your advice, support and encouragement. You continue to inspire me and I'll always remember that I wouldn't have had this job if it weren't for our random sports conversations after class!

To Jordan Moore (Director of Social Media) - Thank you is never enough, but thanks for giving me the opportunity to work for you three years ago and for all the opportunities you've given me since. Your belief in me gave me the confidence to achieve all that I have and I can't imagine working for someone else.

To my mom and brother - Thanks for the overwhelming amount of support these last four years and for understanding when I would forget to text you back or couldn't come home as often as I wanted.

And to my late father, best friend and person I miss the most every day - Daddy, we did it!!

Thanks for the opportunities, experiences, all the ups and the downs, but most of all thanks for the memories. Fight On!

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Graduation Day

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Congratulations to all the USC graduates in the Class of 2016! The student-athletes were honored at their own ceremony on Thursday at the Galen Center.

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Student Tribute to Haden

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Every USC student-athlete in attendance took the stage at the Galen Center to pay tribute to outgoing athletic director Pat Haden.

We will have more content from the Student-Athlete Graduation on Friday, but here is the emotional farewell video made by the student-athletes, in particular Caroline Cordrey of women's lacrosse and Robby Kolanz of football, for their beloved AD:


Celebration Day

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USC celebrated the return of the SoCal BMW Crosstown Cup to Heritage Hall as well as beach volleyball's national championship in a joint ceremony this morning, which featured speeches by athletic director Pat Haden, football head coach Clay Helton, men's basketball head coach Andy Enfield, beach volleyball head coach Anna Collier, and All-Americans Kelly Claes and Sara Hughes.

Click here to watch the celebration!

Here are the John McGillen photos of the event:


#USCgrad: The Lucky One

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Today, USC senior soccer defender Whitney Pitalo will walk across the stage at the Galen Center, receive her diploma for an undergraduate degree in NGOs and Social Change, and then search the crowd for her parents to take in the moment together. Surrounded by hundreds of fellow student-athletes and family members also celebrating the culmination of four years of hard work, the Pitalo's will look like any of the other proud parents in attendance. But their story, and their daughter's story, is quite different.

Pitalo's roots lie in a tough background shared by more than 400,000 other children in the United States. Born in Portland, her birth parents struggled with drug addiction while raising six children. At the age of two, Pitalo and her siblings were removed from their home and placed into the foster care system, almost certainly facing separation from their birth parents as well as each other. Surprisingly, the group was taken in by an older foster parent couple in Salem and six years later, the pair adopted Whitney and four of her siblings (her youngest sister was raised by an aunt), an astoundingly rare occurrence for large groups of children bouncing around the system (all six siblings pictured below).

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"It's unheard of," she says. "My foster parents, who are now my real parents, are amazing people who sacrificed a lot."

The first in her family to graduate from a four-year university, Pitalo has exceeded expectations in more ways than one. Her childhood love of soccer led her to USC and helped her discover her life's passion, connecting the circle of her story back to where she started. As she reflects back on the last four, and 22 years, she feels more certain than ever where her road is taking her.

"I have more direction in my life in terms of where I want to go," says Pitalo. "I'm more confident in my values and my beliefs and know where I'm headed. My freshman year was all about soccer and just getting by, now it's much bigger than that."

When she moved to Los Angeles from Oregon four years ago, Pitalo slowly learned to balance soccer and school just like her fellow Trojan student-athletes, finding her way and herself on and off the pitch. She started as a psychology major but soon found a better match in a new program that examined the use of business for social change. Her junior year, she interned at a nonprofit for a class requirement and never stopped, another step closer to finding something outside of soccer that matched her love for her sport.

"It's been really busy," Pitalo acknowledges. "But you make time for things you want. When there is that passion inside of you it doesn't feel like too much. If you know your roots, what and where you come from, that's the most important thing. If you find something that's tied to your roots, to who you are, I'm pretty sure you'll have passion for it and something will come of that."

Before college, Pitalo's biggest passion was for soccer, and as she entered high school she watched as the beautiful game opened doors for her that are rarely open to foster kids. Four years after receiving a scholarship from USC, she is hoping to open those same doors for foster kids just like her.

"A lot of things aren't working [in the foster system]," Pitalo explains. "I got really lucky, and I know that and that's why I'm so passionate about changing it. I was lucky to stay with all of my siblings, but all of my older siblings had to deal with hard stuff. There is so much trauma sustained by kids in the process. I was so lucky not to experience that."

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Pitalo was raised by foster parents (right) who loved and supported her, a simple yet often hard-to-find environment in today's foster care system. When she says she considers herself lucky, it's because her upbringing kept her from the unfortunate reality facing most foster kids. According to the US Department of Health and Human Services, children emerging from the foster care system are five times more likely to develop PTSD and seven times more likely to develop drug dependence than a child not raised in foster care. Twenty-five percent of foster children experience homelessness within four years of leaving the system, and 48 percent will be unemployed for an extended period of time at some point in adulthood. Less than 10 percent of foster children will go on to graduate from college. 

In her current internship at The Right Way Foundation in Los Angeles, Pitalo and her coworkers help transitional-age foster youth learn life skills, find resources and apply for jobs. She is appreciative and proud of the work that they do but believes strongly that change needs to happen at a higher level in order to help foster youth in a tangible and large-scale fashion.

"There are things that need to change," Pitalo says with conviction. "There needs to be more consistency. Foster kids need real relationships, because that's what every person needs to grow and to thrive. To bounce around between pseudo-relationships is unhealthy. The trauma inside is what's hindering them from doing what they need to and want to do. That's the area I really want to work and help in."

Guided by a deeply personal and societally important mission, USC's 2016 female Pac-12 Post Graduate scholarship recipient is headed back home to attend Willamette University to get her master's. From there, she wants to work for benefit corporations, leveraging business to do good for society, and then one day in government, where she can help to fix the country's broken foster care system.

But before she sets off to change the world, Pitalo will celebrate on Thursday alongside family, teammates and coaches, and there's a lot for her to be both happy about and thankful for. For her scholarship to Willamette next year, for four amazing years at USC, for a love of soccer that carried her from Salem to Southern California and back again and most of all, for a foster family and story that's one-of-a-kind. At graduation, Pitalo will celebrate that story, with the hope and confidence that one day she can help other foster children have a chance at the same happy ending.  

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