Women's Water Polo
    USC Shifts Into High Gear For NCAA Championship Race

    The Trojans splash down in San Diego this week for a push to the 2012 NCAA title.

    May 7, 2012

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    The Women of Troy are on the hunt for the program's fourth national championship this weekend as the USC women's water polo team revisits the site of its latest NCAA title for the 2012 NCAA Championships. The No. 3 seed for this year's tournament, the Trojans (21-5) set up camp at the Aztec Aquaplex in San Diego, Calif., this week for NCAA action running May 11-13. Looking to duplicate the championship run they made in 2010 in San Diego, the Trojans open up the 2012 tourney against No. 6 seed Princeton (28-4) at 1:45 p.m. on Friday (May 11). A win there would push USC into the 5:15 p.m. semifinal against either No. 2 seeded UCLA or No. 7 seed Iona on Saturday (May 12). The national championship match is set for 5:15 p.m. on Sunday (May 13), preceded by the 3:30 p.m. third-place game.




    USC opened 2012 tied at No. 3 in the nation alongside UCLA, but moved up to No. 2 on Feb. 8. The Trojans are back at the No. 3 position again in the latest national rankings.

    Entering the 2012 NCAA competition, USC has outscored its opponents 291-133 to average 11.2 goals scored and 5.1 goals-against per game ranking third in the MPSF in offense and No. 2 in defense. Sophomore Kaleigh Gilchrist is USC's top scorer with 43 goals to date, followed by freshman Monica Vavic with 34 goals. Not far behind her are junior Patricia Jancso with 28 and senior Nadia Dan with 25. Dan hit her 100th career goal on March 22 vs. Long Beach State and now ranks No. 19 all-time with 107. Jancso got to 100 on Feb. 23 in USC's win over Hawai'i, and now holds 118 career goals to rank No. 15 as a Trojan.

    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 was fourth in 2011. This year marks USC's ninth consecutive NCAA appearance and ninth overall, as the Trojans hold a 16-7 all-time record in NCAA tournament play.

    No. 3 seed USC is one of eight teams lined up for postseason play in San Diego. The Trojans earned an at-large berth this season after finishing third in MPSF competition with its only losses this year coming in one-goal decisions to top seed Stanford and No. 2 seed UCLA. Receiving automatic bids into the 2012 tournament are five teams that clinched their NCAA tickets by winning conference championships. Defending NCAA champion and top-seeded Stanford (23-2) earned an at-large berth this year after No. 2 seed UCLA (21-3) claimed the MPSF's automatic qualifier with a win over the Cardinal in the conference championship match. The four other conference champions joining the NCAA field for 2012 are: No. 4 seed UC Irvine (24-6, Big West Conference); No. 5 seed Loyola Marymount (20-9, Western Water Polo Association); No. 6 seed Princeton (28-4, Collegiate Water Polo Association; No. 7 seed Iona (24-11, Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference) and No. 8 seed Pomona-Pitzer (21-16, Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference).

    This year's squad of Trojans boasts several members of its 2010 NCAA title-winning team, including seniors Nadia Dan and Kara-Leigh Huse and juniors Patricia Jancso and Dominique Sardo. Four more Trojans -- Constance Hiller, Nicolina McCall, Blair Moody and Chelsea Silvers -- also were freshmen on the USC roster in 2010. To go with that base of championship experience, the 2012 Women of Troy are led in scoring and defensively by a strong group of younger players. Sophomore Kaleigh Gilchrist is USC's top scorer with 43 goals to date, and freshman Monica Vavic is next with 34. Sophomore goalie Flora Bolonyai has been a power in the cage, having averaged over 10 saves per game at the MPSF Championships and standing tall as a 2012 Olympian-to-be as a member of the Hungarian National Team. In all, head coach Jovan Vavic has a well-rounded squad ready to take aim at the 2012 NCAA crown. In its 21-5 overall record to date, USC's only losses this year have been one-goal decisions to Stanford and UCLA.

    USC held an 18-6 overall record entering the 2011 NCAA Championships in Ann Arbor, Mich., as the No. 4 seed in the tournament. An at-large team after a fifth-place finish at the 2011 MPSF Tournament, the Trojans opened the NCAA competition with a 14-9 win over UC Irvine in the first round. In the semifinals, USC lost 8-4 to top-seeded Stanford, which went on to win the 2011 crown. In the third-place game, USC was edged by UCLA 6-5. Patricia Jancso led USC with six goals in all, with Dominique Sardo adding five. Defensively, goalie Flora Bolonyai averaged 10 saves per game. With the fourth-place finish, USC wrapped up 2011 with a 19-8 overall record to come up short of a 20-win season for the first time since 1997.

    USC took third at the 2011 MPSF Championships with a 6-4 win over No. 5 seed California to rebound from a tense 4-3 loss to No. 2 seed UCLA in the semifinals. The Bruins managed a go-ahead goal with 3 seconds left in regulation to break up the defensive battle in the semis. No. 3 seeded USC had opened the tournament with an impressive 8-1 win over San Jose State in the first round to make its first defensive statement of the postseason. In all, USC goalie Flora Bolonyai averaged over 10 saves a game for the Trojan defense, while the offense saw Patricia Jancso and Monica Vavic each finish with four goals in the tourney. Also the provider of several assists to her teammates, Vavic was named to the 2011 MPSF All-Tournament Team.

    USC's sophomore goalie Flora Bolonyai has helped Team Hungary to a place at the coming 2012 Olympic Games in London thanks to a resounding win over Kazakhstan. The quarterfinal round at the Women's Water Polo Olympic Qualification Tournament was intense, with semifinal slots also securing a place in London. By the time the water settled in Trieste, Italy, the Olympic women's water polo field was complete. Along with Flora Bolonyai's Hungary team, former Trojan Sofia Konoukh has helped Russia qualify as well, putting Konoukh in position for her fourth Olympic appearance. Konoukh had to face off against two other former Trojans in the crucial quarterfinal round, as Russia edged out Canada for the semifinal spot and trip to London. Canadians Joelle Bekhazi and Rosanna Tomiuk are recent USC grads. Another former Trojan, Ilse van der Meijden of the Netherlands, also came up just short of an Olympic spot when the Dutch team lost in the quarterfinals. van der Meijden and the Netherlands won gold in 2008 in Beijing. So with Olympic qualification now under her cap, Flora Bolonyai is now set to return to USC to rejoin the Women of Troy for the coming MPSF Tournament next week to fight for a place at the 2012 NCAA Tournament. In addition to Bolonyai (Hungary) and Konoukh (Russia), the USA Olympic roster -- due to be announced next month -- could well contain three more Trojans. Tumua Anae, Kami Craig and Lauren Wenger were all members of the U.S. squad that secured Olympic qualification earlier by means of winning the Pan-American Games. The complete 2012 Olympic women's water polo field is: Australia, China, Hungary, Italy, Great Britain, Russia, Spain and United States.

    Sophomore Kaleigh Gilchrist secured USC with back-to-back MPSF Player of the Week honors, following fellow sophomore Flora Bolonyai's selection on March 26 by emerging as the MPSF's best of the week with her Player of the Week pick on April 2. Gilchrist scored her second and third straight multiple-goal games starting with a hat trick vs. Hartwick before plugging in two more goals in USC's MPSF win over No. 5 California. Gilchrist was dominant at 2-meters in both games as she helped USC extend its win streak to six games. Gilchrist's scoring explosion has her leading USC with 43 goals to date.

    Sophomore goalie Flora Bolonyai hauled in her first career honor as MPSF Player of the Week on March 26 after an outstanding week of action in the cage for the Women of Troy. She was the first Trojan to win the award this season. A two-time MPSF Newcomer of the Week as a freshman, Bolonyai matched her career high of 13 saves in an important MPSF road win over No. 4 ASU. The sophomore standout delivered 11 saves in the second half of play in Tempe, including six in the fourth period to go with a shutout effort in that frame as No. 3 USC beat the host Sun Devils 9-7. In USC's three games during the week, Bolonyai averaged 9.7 saves per game, tallying 10 in a 7-3 win over Long Beach State before the career-high 13 saves at ASU. And in a 10-6 USC win over No. 7 LMU, Bolonyai had six saves including one stop against a 5-meter penalty shot by the Lions.

    USC is just one season removed from the 2010 national championship year, which eight current players experienced. Seniors Nadia Dan and Kara-Leigh Huse were sophomores in that campaign, and the rest are now juniors, giving Vavic a powerful base of knowledge to tap into as he constructs a a defensive-minded squad to get the Trojans back on top. USC's top scorer in 2011, Patricia Jancso and fellow junior Dominique Sardo were impact players as freshmen during that 2010 championship run. Constance Hiller, Nicolina McCall, Blair Moody and Chelsea Silvers also got plenty of pool time as freshmen that year and even more last season as sophomores. Now, that pack of upperclassmen are charged with putting that know-how and skill to good use this year. That pack of eight juniors and seniors have contributed 135 goals to date, accounting for 46 percent of USC's total scoring.

    USC's class of newcomers is a powerful group. Jovan Vavic has combined the strength of Eike Daube at two-meters and Monica Vavic as an insightful distributor with scoring ability with the quickness of transfer Olivia Cummins and freshman drivers Michelle Caron and Savannah Fletcher, to set up the Trojans for a youth movement toward success. Led by Vavic's 34 goals to date, that group of five newbies have accounted for 69 goals for the Trojans this year (24 percent).

    Versatility has been an important counter punch for the Trojans, who can now follow up the more experienced defensive system on one end with a blend of offensive strategies going the opposite direction. The sophomore savvy of Kaleigh Gilchrist, Colleen O'Donnell and Madeline Rosenthal --- who combined for 35 goals as freshmen -- have more than doubled their output as sophomores to 75 goals to date (26 percent). O'Donnell and Rosenthal got extra experience in the offseason as members of the U.S. Junior National Team, along with junior Dominique Sardo, at the FINA Junior World Championships. Sophomore Jennifer Stiefel also was there, playing for Germany, as well as fellow sophomore Flora Bolonyai, who won silver with Team Hungary.

    USC freshman Savannah Fletcher scored seven goals in USC's first two games at the Lancer Invitational and finished with a team-high eight at the two-day event as USC picked up four more wins to improve to 7-1 on the year. For her outstanding work for the Women of Troy, Fletcher was named MPSF Newcomer of the Week, making her the first USC player this season to win a weekly award from the conference. On Feb. 17 in Riverside, Fletcher went big in game one, punching in four to lead the Trojans to a 14-2 win over Pacific. She followed that up with a hat trick next against Fresno Pacific that same day, and then hit one more with a goal against Concordia on Feb. 18.

    USC returns 65 percent of its scoring from last year, including two of its top-three scorers from 2011 in junior Patricia Jancso and senior Nadia Dan, who combined for 83 goals last season. Dan and Jancso both earned All-American honors in 2011 along with sophomore goalie Flora Bolonyai, who anchored the Trojans in every game to the tune of 7.9 saves per game and 6.7 goals-against per game. Along with Bolonyai back in the cage, USC also has 13 players back in the water who tallied at least one goal for the Women of Troy in 2011.

    Sophomore goalie Flora Bolonyai brings back some hardware from overseas as she now jumps into collegiate waters with her Women of Troy. As the linchpin of the Hungarian National Team's defense, Bolonyai helped her team to a bronze medal at the European Championships in January 2012 in the Netherlands. In doing so, Hungary moves on to fight for a spot in the London Olympic Games with a spot at April's Olympic Qualification Tournament. Bolonyai started her decorated debut with Hungary's Senior National Team earlier in the year as she picked up honors as the Best Goalie of the Tournament at the 2012 Thetis Cup before moving into this latest major competition with Hungary at the European Championships.

    2011 RECAP
    After graduating five All-Americans from its 2010 NCAA Championship team, the 2011 Trojans finished 19-8 overall and 4-3 in MPSF play with a fourth-place finish at the NCAA Tournament. Five Trojans earned All-American honors, with seniors Joelle Bekhazi and Kristen Dronberger pocketing their third straight All-American awards. The duo was joined by three other teammates on the All-American list -- Flora Bolonyai, Nadia Dan and Patricia Jancso. Jancso, Bekhazi, Dan and Dronberger were USC's top four scorers, respectively. Bolonyai was USC's wall in the cage, earning herself All-America honors in her first season as a Trojan. USC outscored opponents 280-188, averaging 10.3 goals per game offensively and 7.0 goals against per game defensively.