2013 USC Women's Water Polo Season Outlook
Feb. 7, 2013
In the ebb and flow of collegiate water polo, the USC women's water polo team has managed to build up a tidal wave of talent for the 2013 season. Decorated players from across the globe have blended well with homegrown stars who have earned their stripes, making the Women of Troy a force of nature for the season to come.
Now entering his 19th season at the helm of the USC women's program, 11-time National Coach of the Year Jovan Vavic has set the bar high once again for his Trojans. USC has reached the NCAA title match four of the past five seasons now. In 2010, the Trojans reigned supreme as national champions, and with five members still remaining from that squad, the USC roster is packed with winning experience and a driving hunger to win it all once again. Seniors Constance Hiller, Nicolina McCall, Blair Moody, Chelsea Silvers and Dominique Sardo have put three seasons of work into the USC program as they now enter their final seasons at Troy as the leaders in experience across the board. All-American Sardo is joined by junior All-American Kaleigh Gilchrist as this year's team captains. Gilchrist was USC's top scorer as a sophomore, and the pair are matched at 62 career goals apiece as they enter 2013.
"We have more maturity now, and the extra experience will help us in those close matches," said Vavic, whose Trojans went 23-6 overall last season, with five of those losses coming in one-goal games. "We have quite a few juniors and seniors on the team who will help lead the way and show the younger players the plays and what to expect as the seasons goes on.
"More than anything, our chemistry is good. That's always the key. They get along and are very committed to playing water polo. This is a very good group in terms of commitment to each other and to the sport."
That kind of commitment has brought players from around the world to Troy. A 2012 Olympian from Hungary, Flora Bolonyai returns to USC as a junior goalie and a two-time All-American with the Trojans. Arguably the top collegiate goalie in the game and one of USC's most decorated and experienced goalies who Vavic calls "the backbone of this team," Bolonyai actually faced off against a teammate-to-be while in London. Spain's Anni Espar was the second leading scorer in the 2012 Olympic Games, winning silver in London and now entering her freshman season as a Trojan. Back in 2010, USC had one Olympian on its roster in Cutino Award winner Kami Craig. For 2013, the Trojans have doubled up with two Olympic stars with its one-two punch of Bolonyai and Espar.
But that's just the tip of the iceberg in USC's influx of incredible international talent this season. Freshly capped up for their first seasons as Trojans are Australian imports Jayde Appel and Hannah Buckling. Appel has been a member of the Australian Junior National Team, and Buckling is a member of the Australian Senior National Team. A veteran crew of U.S. Junior National Team talent also shines bright for the Trojans, with sophomore Eike Daube a current member of the U.S junior team, and four 2011 Junior World Championship teammates for the USA -- Kelly Mendoza, Colleen O'Donnell, Madeline Rosenthal, Dominique Sardo. Mendoza is another new addition to the Trojan roster for 2013, coming to Troy as a junior transfer from Cal. Sophomore Monica Vavic, too, also has spent time in international waters playing for the U.S. youth and junior teams. Last year, Vavic joined three-time Olympian Aniko Pelle as the only USC true freshmen in history to be named a First Team All-American and to the All-MPSF First Team
"In many ways this is as good a team if not even more talented than the one that won the championship in 2010," Jovan Vavic said. "This team has superstars -- national team and junior national team players. That really helps because they have more exposure to bigger competition."
USC's talent upgrade also involves an increase in size and strength for 2013. The 2-meter spot is packed with power on both ends of the pool. All-American juniors Gilchrist and Colleen O'Donnell will continue to be tabbed for duties at set in offensive and defensive roles, with both players also boasting dangerous arms from outside as well. Junior Madeline Rosenthal and sophomore Eike Daube also return to the hole for duty, joined by newcomer Appel bringing her 6-2 frame into the rotation as well. The spark they bring on the USC attacking end is backed up by a force of defensive-savvy new Trojans Mendoza and Buckling.
"We've added size and strength at 2-meters and 2-meter defense, and also we're much more offensively dangerous now," Vavic said. "We are returning our key scorers in Gilchrist and Monica and Dominique, and we have Maddy and Colleen with another year of experience. Eike also is more mature now, and we have even more experience with our other seniors Nina, Consi, Blair and Chelsea, and Olivia Cummins is one of our best drivers and will be an asset."
Of those new faces in the mix, Vavic also has high praise.
"Kelly can do a bit of everything -- 2-meter defense and post up. She's a strong girl with good speed and an all-around good player. Hannah is a very strong player. She will really bring toughness and intelligence to our team. Jayde, in terms of length, is one of the longest girls in Division 1. She is a very good ball handler and passer and a good outside shooter."
Speaking of outside shooting, the Trojans also welcome one of the world's best in Espar, who had a hat trick in the 2012 Olympic gold-medal game for Spain in finishing with silver at London. She's the complete package, making her a thrilling addition to the Trojan lineup, where her innate abilities will pair well with USC's returning threats.
"She will make all our players better," Vavic said of Espar. "Anni understands the game of water polo better than most players I've coached. She's a very unique player. She's tough, she works hard and she's fast."
Espar is one a a few true freshmen in their first year at USC, joined by goalie Alegra Hueso and field players Natalie Lavinsky, Emilie Myers and Courtney Walters as a balanced package of new talent at Troy.
"These new freshmen all can play," Vavic said. "They have a pretty bright future with our program.
"We definitely have the tools and the players and we are more talented than last year," Vavic added. "This team is definitely a contender."