2015 USC Women's Water Polo Season Outlook|
Feb. 5, 2015
2015 USC WOMEN'S WATER POLO SEASON OUTLOOK
Twenty years ago, Jovan Vavic got the ball officially rolling for women's water polo at USC.
Fair to say, that ball just continues to pick up speed. Under Vavic's guidance, the Women of Troy have won four national championships since that inaugural 1995 season. And ever since winning their second title in 2004, Vavic's Trojans have reached the NCAA Tournament every single season while capturing two more crowns along the way. This year, the USC women show no signs of losing any of that postseason steam.
Besides coach Vavic, there are three Women of Troy who have already had a taste of NCAA Championship glory. Junior Jayde Appel and senior All-Americans Eike Daube and Monica Vavic were all three members of USC's 2013 national championship team. Their veteran savvy provides the groundwork for this 2015 roster, which is also replete with plenty of talented youth to help drive USC back toward a 12th consecutive trip to the NCAA tourney after a third-place finish last season and a 26-4 overall mark.
USC's three returning All-Americans alone have proven they can provide serious firepower. Vavic topped the charts in 2014 with 75 goals on her way to a third straight selection as an All-American. Daube and Stephania Haralabidis were first-time All-American honorees last season, having served up a combined 102 goals in weighing in as USC's next most prolific scorers. All told, six of USC's top eight scorers are back for more in 2015.
Seniors Daube, Vavic and Jennifer Stiefel were right in that mix last season. Stiefel punched in 31 goals; Daube was third on the team with 44 goals; and Vavic's 75 goals pumped up her career tally to 191 to rank her No. 7 all-time in career scoring -- 64 goals shy of the all-time record. Fueling the offensive fire further are now-sophomores Stephania and Ioanna Haralabidis, whose 58 and 33 respective goals as freshmen make them key elements for 2015 as well, along with junior Appel, who struck 25 goals last year. Needless to say, USC has an adept ability to score.
"We have good returning players," coach Vavic said of the experience back in the water for 2015. "They know what it takes, so they certainly are capable of stepping up and doing much more than before. We actually have more returning firepower because we have six girls who played quite a bit last year. I think our future is very bright. Even outside of the seniors, we have strong group of freshmen and sophomores. We have the size and the speed."
In fact, the 2015 Women of Troy look to be even more balanced than ever before. New additions to the pool have opened up USC's options immensely, with an inside presence of power to pair nicely with the perimeter players. What's more, the Trojans will enjoy an injection of extra speed this season as well to pump up the counterattack and add an extra edge to the USC gameplan.
Appel already presents a proven force at the two-meter slot. She'll have extra backup this season in the form of sophomore newcomer Brigitta Games, whose size, speed and strength are primed to make her an immediate impact player for the Trojans.
"We really could be the best team in the center area," Vavic said. "We may have two of the best centers in the nation with Jayde and Brigitta. We've never had anyone like Brigitta. She's fast, she's really eager to learn and has a great attitude."
That tandem is bolstered further by young players who have the knack to post up like Appel and Games, and also to turn around and clamp down at set defensively. Two Trojan freshmen bring in international experience as members of their respective youth national teams. Canadian Hayley McKelvey and U.S. player Brianna Daboub both picked up medals at the FINA Youth World Championships. Now teammates, McKelvey and Daboub represent a forceful and talented youth movement for the Women of Troy.
"Both are very versatile," Vavic said of Daboub and McKelvey. "They can defend and post up, and they are excellent outside shooters. They can really be a backbone for our team."
USC's backbone for the last four season has been in the cage. Olympian and four-time All-American goalie Flora Bolonyai has now graduated, leaving the defensive duties to a new international import. Brazilian national teamer Victória Chamorro takes over as USC's starting goalie, backed up by returners Alegra Hueso and Melanie Slater, who both got in good game action last season. Vavic sees Chamorro as a burgeoning talent for the Trojans.
"Replacing Flora is a big challenge," Vavic contends. "If you just look at athleticism, I think that Vicky may even be more athletic in some ways. She's already at a high level as a freshman. She is very explosive and will be an outstanding goalie. She's smart and very willing to learn."
Chamorro is one of many bright spots in USC's new crew. A junior college transfer along with Games, junior Melissa Bergesen adds an infusion of speed and savvy. True freshmen Sydney Blubaugh, Cara Borkovec, Courtney Batcheller and Annika Jensen bring even more of a depth charge to the Trojans. What Bergesen brings to the USC counterattack, Blubaugh can spark with her power and passing ability. Batcheller boasts a deft left hand, and Borkovec and Jensen have the length and speed to be driving forces as well.
And while the younger Trojans get up to snuff on the USC system, several returners are primed to shine this season in bringing experience and skill back for more. Sophomores Avery Peterson and Nikki Stansfield are due to be called upon for increased roles now in their second season at Troy. So, too, do senior Sara Salamon and sophomore Ellie D'Ambra stand to deliver an extra dose of experience for the Women of Troy.
"Avery is probably our most improved player," Vavic said of Peterson. "She's going to help us. She's very versatile and has great hands. Nikki is a soldier. She's fast and has a good outside shot. Sara and Ellie are both smart girls and good shooters who will be on our traveling squad, too."
For every player lost to graduation from last season, Vavic sees a capable replacement for 2015. Even better, he sees an upgrade in many facets of the Trojan gameplan.
"We are very strong and very quick," Vavic said. "With some of these younger girls, we could be the best in two-meter defenders as well. Speed-wise, nobody can match us. We can be an awesome fast break team. We're going be a fun team to watch. It's exciting."