The USC women's water polo team carries some winning momentum into its 10th straight NCAA Tournament appearance this week. At 24-1 overall, the 2013 MPSF Tournament champs are seeded No. 1 in the eight-team field of contenders traveling to Harvard's Blodgett Pool for competition May 10-12. The Women of Troy are looking to claim their fourth national championship on this cross-country journey, hoping to add the 2013 trophy to their 1999, 2004 and 2010 titles. USC (24-1) opens the 2013 tourney against No. 8 Pomona-Pitzer (18-16) at 5:15 p.m. ET on Friday, May 10. No. 2 Stanford (27-2), the two-time defending national champion, will face No. 7 seed Iona; No. 3 seed UCLA (26-6) faces No. 6 seed Princeton (26-5); and No. 5 seed UC San Diego (25-13) plays No. 4 seed Hawaii (21-9) at 7 p.m. The winners will advance to May 11 semifinals rounds, with the 2013 national championship game set for May 12 at 5:15 p.m. ET at Harvard's Blodgett Pool.
USC IN THE RANKINGS
USC opened 2013 ranked No. 2 in the nation, and the Women of Troy took over the top spot after beating Stanford in the UCI Invitational championship. The takeover marked the first time USC had been ranked No. 1 in the nation since the conclusion of the 2010 season. The Trojans stole the top spot away from Stanford, which had been at No. 1 for almost a year, on Feb. 27. USC remained at No. 1 for seven straight weeks until the Cardinal grabbed an MPSF win over USC on April 13, putting the Trojans back at No. 2 for two weeks until USC avenged its lone loss in beating Stanford at the MPSF Championship. The Trojans are now back on top as the No. 1 team in the nation.
USC has won three national championships in program history, with the first coming in 1999 before the NCAA sponsored women's water polo. In 2004, the Trojans posted the first-ever undefeated season on the way to capturing the 2004 NCAA title. USC's third title came in 2010 in a championship win over Stanford. USC has since finished third in 2005 and 2007, placed second in 2006, 2008 and 2009 and 2012, and was fourth in 2011. This year marks USC's 10th consecutive NCAA appearance and 10th overall, as the Trojans hold an 18-8 all-time record in NCAA tournament play.
The top-seeded Trojans (24-1) earned their place in the tourney as the automatic bid out of the MPSF by winning the tournament championship in Berkeley. The rest of the 2013 NCAA field includes two other MPSF teams -- No. 2 seed Stanford (27-2) and No. 3 seed UCLA (26-6) -- awarded at-large berths, along with the automatic bids won by conference champions around the nation. Those seeded teams are: No. 4 Hawai'i (21-9, Big West Conference), No. 5 UC San Diego (25-13, Western Water Polo Association), No. 6 Princeton (26-5, Collegiate Water Polo Association), No. 7 Iona (21-8, Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference) and No. 8 Pomona-Pitzer (18-16, Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference).
THIS TIME LAST YEAR
USC was the No. 3 seed into the 2012 NCAA Championships, held in San Diego. The Trojans opened up with a powerful 12-10 win over No. 6 seeded Princeton to face rival UCLA in the semifinals. There, USC recorded its first NCAA tournament win over the Bruins with a strong 12-10 victory that launched the Trojans into their sixth NCAA title match. Defending champion Stanford was able to hold off the Trojans in the final, however. Four different Trojans scored as USC pulled even at 4-4 in the fourth frame, but Stanford got two to go down the stretch to take the title with a 6-4 win over the Trojans. USC goalie Flora Bolonyai had nine saves in the game and earned a spot on the NCAA All-Tournament Second Team, with NCAA All-Tournament First Team picks Patricia Jancso, Kaleigh Gilchrist and Monica Vavic.
BY THE NUMBERS
Entering the 2013 NCAA Tournament, USC is outscoring opponents 374-128 on the year. That scoring mark is the third most in a single season in program history. The record was set with 422 goals scored in 2001, and the 2013 Trojans are within reach of passing up the No. 2 mark of 380 hit in 2007. Sophomore Monica Vavic has been the undisputed scoring leader down the stretch, with 71 goals scored to date -- almost double her freshman season total of 39 to push her past the 100 career goal mark. Her 71 goals this season is the fourth most scored in a singles season by a Trojan. Vavic hit her landmark 100th goal against rival UCLA on April 19. Next in line on the scoresheets are Kaleigh Gilchrist with 41 goals, Hannah Buckling with 33, and Dominique Sardo and Jayde Appel with 27 each. Freshman Anni Espar has missed some games for travel and injury, but is right up there as well on the MPSF leader board with 25 goals scored in her 14 appearances to average 1.8 goals per game. On the defensive end, USC has a reliable anchor in junior goalie Flora Bolonyai, who averages 7.9 saves per game and is third in the MPSF with 5.0 goals-against per game. In all, the Trojans lead the conference with 14.96 goals per game. USC is second in the MPSF defensively with 5.12 goals-against per game.
USC's captains this year are senior Dominique Sardo and junior Kaleigh Gilchrist, who each carried 62 career goals into this 2013 season. All-Americans both, the two Trojan veterans are lined up to lead the Women of Troy by word and deed this season. Thanks in part to a hat trick at UCLA, Gilchrist now holds 41 goals on the year, followed by Sardo at 27.
USC put forth a dominating performance at the 2013 MPSF Tournament. The Trojans opened with a 21-5 win over CSU Bakersfield in the first round and took a 6-0 lead on ASU in the semifinals en route to an 11-5 win there. That put USC in the title match against Stanford, against which the Trojans had split games during the regular season. In the final, USC shell-shocked top-seeded Stanford. The Women of Troy rattled the Cardinal cage with five unanswered goals in the first period and finished off an 11-7 win to claim USC's third MPSF title and avenge USC's only loss of the year. USC and Stanford had traded wins earlier in the season, with the Trojans posting a 13-10 win in February and the Cardinal claiming a 6-4 win during the MPSF regular-season. USC served up a healthy dose of payback in the title match, though, generating its most decisive win over Stanford since the 2010 season, when the Trojans went on to win the 2010 NCAA Championship. The Women of Troy could do no wrong in the first frame, taking a quick lead on a sliding blast from Monica Vavic and adding to it with a skipper from Hannah Buckling. Those two continued to provide plenty of firepower for the Trojan offense, blasting two apiece in the first frame around a stinging skip shot from Kelly Mendoza to bump USC up 5-0. Buckling would end the day by scoring USC's final goal of the game, going low corner on the Cardinal defense to match her USC career best of four goals in the game. Vavic had a hat trick by halftime, and Anni Espar sliced in two goals to help drive the powerful Trojan offense out of reach of Stanford. On the defensive end, USC's Flora Bolonyai hauled in nine saves in the game, including a block against a Stanford 5-meter penalty shot that would have recorded the Cardinal's first goal of the game and made it close early. USC last won the MPSF Championship in 2009, and also won the tournament title in 2004.
USC sophomore Monica Vavic has sprinted to her 100th career goal, hit at UCLA. Vavic got to 100 in her 41st game as a Trojan, and she now holds 110 as she works her way up USC's all-time top-20 career scorer list. At the MPSF Tournament, junior Kaleigh Gilchrist also chiseled her place in the club, scoring her 100th goal during a five-goal blitz in the first round. She now holds 103 career goals to date. Waiting in the wings to join the crew is senior Dominique Sardo, who has tallied 89 in her Trojan career entering her final NCAA trip.
USC has an influx of incredible international talent this season. Freshly capped up for their first seasons as Trojans are Australian imports Jayde Appel and Hannah Buckling, along with Olympic gold medalist Anni Espar of Spain. Espar was named to the 2012 Olympic All-Star Team and also selected the European Women's Water Polo Player of the Year. Appel has been a member of the Australian Junior National Team, and Buckling is a member of the Australian Senior National Team. Even more international experience already lives large on the Trojan roster. Olympian Flora Bolonyai helped Hungary to a fourth-place finish in London, and the junior now returns to Troy to guard the cage as one of USC's most experienced and decorated goalies in history. 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 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.
CARDINAL & GOLD PAIRS WELL WITH RED, WHITE & BLUE
USC's decorated and championship-savvy water polo head coach, Jovan Vavic, added another team to his charge in being named interim head coach of the USA Men's Senior National Team. The 11-time National Coach of the Year at the helm of both the USC men's and women's programs, Vavic stepped into the international realm in an effort to help Team USA qualify for the 2013 FINA World Championships. In his debut as interim head coach for Team USA Vavic, along with Trojan head assistant coach Marko Pintaric, successfully guided Team USA to qualification for the upcoming FINA World Championships. Leading a fairly young U.S. squad -- which included current Trojan Nikola Vavic and former Trojan Tommy Corcoran -- coach Vavic helped the United States to reach the final of the UANA World Aquatic Championship Qualification Tournament in order to secure a spot at Worlds. Vavic and Pintaric both have returned to USC to resume duties leading the USC women as they begin their 2013 season. Both coaches have concluded their time with USA Water Polo and remain on the USC staff for the USC men and women.
The 2012 Women of Troy fought back to the NCAA final for the fourth time in the past five seasons. Seeded third in the tourney, USC beat rival UCLA 12-10 in the 2012 NCAA semifinals to force a rematch of the 2010 national championship game with a bout against top-seeded Stanford. The Cardinal won the title with 6-4 victory, putting the Trojans at 23-6 overall on the year as USC finished ranked No. 2 in the nation. The Trojans finished third in the MPSF Tournament. Led by freshman first-team selection Monica Vavic, the USC landed six All-Americans for the 2012 season, including a pair of newly crowned two-time All-Americans in second-team selection Flora Bolonyai and honorable mention recipient Nadia Dan. The rest of the group grabbed their first career honors, with sophomore Kaleigh Gilchrist on the second team, and sophomore Colleen O'Donnell and junior Dominique Sardo earning honorable mention. Gilchrist was the Trojans' top scorer in 2012 with 47 goals, followed by Vavic with 39. Bolonyai averaged 8.6 saves per game and 5.3 goals-against per game on the year. In all, the USC offense averaged 11.1 goals per game, while the defense allowed 5.2 goals-against per game. USC outscored opponents 321-151 in 2012.