2009 USC Women's Water Polo Outlook
Feb. 2, 2009
Some teams measure experience in years.
At USC, you can also measure experience in miles, medals and time zones.
This 2009 season, the USC women's water polo team returns two All-Americans with 95 goals and 321 saves between them - a not-so-subtle hint at the balance stabilizing the Trojan waters this year - as well as a slew of talent from last year's NCAA finalist squad. Jordan Anae and All-American Michelle Stein are USC's two seniors, bringing leadership and three trips to the NCAA Tournament to the pool for their final year at Troy. Several more returning Women of Troy bring in summer experience state-side, as Stein and sophomore Kristen Dronberger were members of the U.S. National B Team and Tumua Anae earned honors as the Top 40 Festival Most Valuable Goalie. Meanwhile, junior Forel Davies has been deepening her defensive skills and all-around game with the U.S. Junior National Team. Davies, Alexandra Kiss and Kally Lucas are all back in the waters of Troy as juniors with a wealth of offensive firepower. In whole, USC returns seven of its top-10 scorers from last year.
Counting up years of experience on the roster this season is only part of the story, however.
For 2009, USC head coach Jovan Vavic has added four players boasting significant mileage from overseas. While the current Women of Troy have been taking yearly trips to the NCAA Tournament, that fearsome foursome was racking up frequent flier miles - and hardware - in international waters.
Back in the waters of Troy after a year off spent training and traveling the world with Team USA is now-junior Kami Craig. The tremendous talent at two-meters flexed her muscles in Beijing during the summer and came home with a silver medal from the 2008 Olympic Games. Her experience abroad is edged only by three other international imports. Ilse van der Meijden hails from the Netherlands and was the goalie for the Dutch squad in Beijing, anchoring a gold-medal finish for the Netherlands to give the Trojans two Olympic medalists in the water this season. And even more travel time has been clocked by USC newcomers Joelle Bekhazi and Rosanna Tomiuk - two Canadian national teamers.
Truth is, the Trojan roster is dripping with experience in every shape and form. All-American junior goalie Tumua Anae and Olympic gold-medalist van der Meijden provide an unheard-of tagteam of talent in the cage, forming a powerful backbone for the defense that Vavic has now established as a trademark of his Trojan teams.
"I think this is going to be one of our toughest and best defensive teams," Vavic said. "We are athletic, quick and tough. We can easily start six girls without worry of a mismatch at set. We have every position covered with two or three players and we are really great in goal."
While All-American senior Michelle Stein comes back as USC's top scorer from 2008, Olympian Craig settles into set with plenty of power sprinkled around the perimeter with Stein. Bekhazi and Tomiuk both can put the ball away - something that senior Jordan Anae and juniors Forel Davies, Alexandra Kiss, Kally Lucas have been doing as sneaky and swift scorers for several seasons already at Troy.
And if anyone plans on underestimated the USC underclassmen, there will be consequences. Once Craig has taken her turn tiring out opposing two-meter guards, sophomore Sarah Van Norman is a sure bet at set. She and fellow sophomore Kristen Dronberger provided a combined 35 goals as freshmen and both are back stronger and with even more savvy. What's more, USC's 2009 first-year field players Nadia Dan and Kara-Leigh Huse are also in line for plenty of minutes as impact freshmen out of the gates.
"I just see that we are balanced," Vavic said. "Everybody that's playing this year can score, and we are tremendously tough at two-meters with Kami and Sarah, who has gotten a lot more mature. Obviously because we have Kami and Sarah, opponents will have to stop that. It will be tough to stop Kami. She is one of best two-meter women in the world because she is so explosive and has great finishing skills. Sarah has improved tremendously. She's crafty and difficult to guard. And our outside shooters are very dangerous. Michelle and Forel both can finish. Sandra and Kally and Joelle and Rosie are all good shooters. And Nadia is an outstanding shooter. She and Kara-Leigh don't play like freshmen. They aren't scared or rattled."
Dan and Huse are just part of the fresh young depth charge joining the USC roster for 2009. Drivers Stephanie Lavayen and Shauna Letvin and goalie Courtney Ray all return to the roster, while the Trojans also have a strong set of true freshmen joining the mix in speedy drivers Paige Squiller, Brianna Vogelzang, and Kendall Wootten. Freshmen Kristine Cato, Danielle Kim and Sarah Welty are all tabbed to redshirt their first year in preparation for a bright future with the Women of Troy.
"What I like about this team is I have a group of girls that are water polo players," Vavic said. "Sometimes you just get lucky."
Lucky or not, the nation has taken note of USC's wealth of experience on all accounts. Vavic's Women of Troy have been tabbed No. 1 in the nation and in the MPSF as the 2009 season gets underway. Coming off a 21-8 mark last year with trips to the MPSF and NCAA finals for second-place finishes at the two postseason pinnacles, USC is devoted to turning the tide and staying on top for 2009.
"This is a group of girls that I think really wants it this year," Vavic said of his 2009 Trojans. "I think that the fact that we played in the championship last year and played really well in the semifinals and that we learned what it takes to get to the finals is valuable.
"In sports you really have to have a great desire and set your goals high and with this group that is their goal. Winning the NCAAs is one of those things that haven't accomplished. We have to prove ourselves."