Women's Water Polo
    No. 1 USC Rolls Undefeated Into UC Irvine Invitational
    USC takes aim at the UC Irvine Invitational title this weekend.
    USC takes aim at the UC Irvine Invitational title this weekend.

    Feb. 18, 2009

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    THIS WEEK: USC lugs its perfect 7-0 start to the season into this year's edition of the competitive UC Irvine Invitational, where the Trojans join 15 other teams for a weekend of action in Irvine, Calif. The Women of Troy (7-0) opens with a 9 a.m. game against UC Santa Barbara on Saturday (Feb. 21). A win would put USC in a 2 p.m. game later that afternoon against either UC Davis or Arizona State. USC is gunning for its second tournament title this month, having claimed first place at the Stanford Invitational two weeks ago. In order to get to the final at the UC Irvine Invitational, USC will need to come out of Saturday's action with wins. That would move the Trojans into a 10:30 a.m. semifinal on Sunday (Feb. 22) against the winner of the bracket containing UCLA, California, UC Irvine and Long Beach State. The championship game is set for 5:15 p.m. on Sunday at UC Irvine's Anteater Pool.

    UC Irvine Invitational tournament central

    IN THE RANKINGS: USC sits as the nation's No. 1 team for the fifth straight week. The rest of the field in the tournament are all top-20 teams. USC's bracket-mates are No. 7 UC Davis, No. 10 Arizona State and No. 19 UC Santa Barbara. Bracket B has No. 2 Stanford, No. 8 San Jose State and No. 19 UC San Diego. In Bracket C are No. 3 Hawai'i, No. 6 San Diego State, No. 11 Michigan and No. 14 Cal State Northridge. And Bracket D has No. 4 UCLA, No. 5 California, No. 12 UC Irvine and No. 13 Long Beach State.

    STANFORD INVITE CHAMPS: USC captured a key tournament title last weekend in a championship run at the Stanford Invitational. In the second day of action, the Women of Troy pinned up a 13-5 win over No. 18 Indiana to close out group play and earn a place in the final. There, USC rolled past No. 4 Hawai'i with an 11-3 win that left the Trojans as the tournament champs with an undefeated 5-0 start to the 2009 season. The top-ranked Women of Troy used momentum from Saturday's 19-9 win over No. 8 Arizona State and a crucial 12-10 overtime victory over host No. 2 Stanford to plow through their Sunday competition at the Avery Aquatic Center. USC last won the Stanford Invitational in 2006.

    STEIN'S TIME TO SHINE: Michelle Stein was USC's leading scorer in four of its five games last week and picked up her third career MPSF Player of the Week honors for her efforts. After starting the season with a hat trick in the Trojans' opener against Hartwick, Stein scored 11 goals in four games at the Stanford Invitational to help push USC to the tournament championship and a 5-0 overall record to start the year. In the crucial Saturday matchup between the No. 1 Trojans and No. 2 Stanford, Stein scored four goals, including two late-game goals to force overtime and one during overtime to help USC get to a 12-10 win. In the championship game against Hawai'i, Stein had another multiple-goal game with three to lead USC in scoring once again. With another three in the tourney opener vs. Arizona State and one against Indiana, Stein has scored 23 goals this season to average 3.29 goals per game through the first seven games of the year. She is just four goals away from taking over as USC's No. 10 all-time career scorer, holding 118 entering this weekend.

    ATTACKING BACK: For 2009, USC women's water polo 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, along with sophomore hole set Sarah Van Norman. In whole, USC returns seven of its top-10 scorers from last year.

    BEIJING'S BEST: 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.

    CAGE FIGHTERS: All-American junior goalie Tumua Anae and Olympic gold-medalist Ilse 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.

    BEHIND THE ARC: The 2009 Trojan juniors and seniors boast plenty of power sprinkled around the perimeter with returning top scorer Michelle Stein. Canadian National Teamers Joelle Bekhazi and Rosanna 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.

    THE NEW CLASS: Up-and-coming sophomores and freshmen are proving a big part of the gameplan for USC. Sophomores Sarah Van Norman and 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. 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 and will factor into the mix.

    LAST SEASON: In 2008, USC finished with a 21-8 overall record with trips to the MPSF and NCAA finals for second-place finishes at the two postseason pinnacles.

    PUTTING THE "USC" IN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: At the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, five Women of Troy helped make history for the United States women's water polo team. A silver-medal finish in Beijing makes Team USA the only women's water polo team to medal in three consecutive Games, a feat that likely would not have been accomplished without the efforts of five first-time Olympians hailing from USC. USC junior Kami Craig and Trojan grads Patty Cardenas, Brittany Hayes, Moriah Van Norman and Lauren Wenger all scored for Team USA during the run to the Olympic final. All told, the Women of Troy accumulated 20 goals in Beijing. In addition to Hayes' eight, Craig notched six, van Norman registered three, Cardenas had two and Wenger -- who reinjured her hand during the semifinals -- scored one to round out the Trojans' offensive onslaught for the silver medalists. Team USA also has former Trojan Bernice Orwig -- a 2000 silver medalist with the United States -- on staff as an assistant coach.