No. 1 USC Women’s Water Polo Returns Home For A Weekend Of MPSF Work

Courtesy: USC Athletics

THIS WEEK
No. 1 USC has another double dose of MPSF action on tap this weekend, with No. 15 San José State coming to town for two conference tests at Uytengsu Aquatics Center. On Saturday (March 27), the Trojans and Spartans square off at 1 p.m., and on Sunday (March 28), it’ll be an 11 a.m. USC-SJSU matchup.

RANKINGS
USC started this 2021 campaign in the same spot it wrapped up the shortened 2020 season — at No. 1 in the nation. The Trojans have remained in that top spot since those Feb. 7 preseason rankings, staying at No. 1 in this latest set of national rankings (released March 24).

SCOUTING SJSU
The No. 17 Spartans are 1-5 overall and 0-2 in MPSF play after taking two losses to Arizona last week by scores of 11-4 and 12-8. Olga Descalzi Portell leads SJSU in scoring with 13 goals. Goalie Hannah Henry is averaging 8.1 saves and 11.7 goals-against per game in her six appearances. In a series dating back to 1998, USC is 38-0 all-time against San José State. In the teams’ last meeting, USC beat the Spartans 15-11 in an MPSF meeting in San José last year

BY THE NUMBERS
Eight games deep into 2021 action, Maud Megens leads the Trojans in scoring with 22 goals. That effort has bumped the senior into the program’s top-10, as Megens now ranks No. 9 all-time in career scoring with 185 goals to date. In all, 12 different Trojans have scored so far this year. Just behind Megens on the scoresheet is senior Verica Bakoc with 19 goals, senior Denise Mammolito with 14 and junior Grace Tehaney with 13. Senior goalie Holly Parker also has climbed the career ladder, now ranked as USC’s No. 8 all-time goalie with 194 career saves. Parker is averaging 7.8 saves and 7.2 goals-against per game in her five appearances in the cage this season, while sophomore Carolyne Stern has appeared in three games, averaging 6.7 saves and 7.0 goals-against per game, and Erin Tharp has checked in once, making four saves and allowing just a single goal in eight minutes of work. As a team, USC is averaging 13.4 goals per game offensively, while the defense has allowed 7.0 goals-against per game. The Trojans have held opponents scoreless in four complete periods so far.

LAST ACTION
USC snagged two road wins to kick off MPSF action last week, beating host California 17-11 on Saturday and 12-9 on Sunday with several Trojans churning out high-scoring efforts in each victory. In the first win, USC seniors Denise Mammolito and Maud Megens had the hot hands for the Trojans, firing off five goals apiece to keep USC on track to victory. Offense was the name of the game in the first frame, with USC having to find answers to early goals by Cal. The Bears were up 3-2 before USC pieced together a rally into the lead, with Maud Megens equalizing on a 6-on-5 before Hannah Meyer converted at the post and Denise Mammolito smashed in her second of the day to go up 5-3. Cal got one to go out of set next, but Megens had a laser lying in wait as she fired off a bar-in blast to lift USC ahead 6-4 by the end of the first. The Trojans stayed hot in the second, pouring out six straight goals before the Bears finally scored 12 seconds before halftime to make it a 12-5 USC lead at  the break. In the second half, Cal scored two quick ones before Megens issued her fifth goal, and USC would stay the course to victory as Kelsey McIntosh and Mireia Guiral also joined the scoresheet en route to the final 17-11 Trojan victory. The next day, senior Verica Bakoc shouldered the scoring load for the Trojans, punching up a career-high seven goal — third most in a single game by a Trojan — to keep USC on track to the 12-9 victory. A tight first half saw the score tied four times as Cal kept reeling in the Trojans, who led by two on a goal from Megens to start the second before Cal crept right back. It was tangled up at 6-6 by halftime when the Bears converted on a 5-meter penalty shot. Cal took its first lead with a goal to open the second half, only to see the Trojans rattle off three straight scores. Bakoc knocked in two of those, with McIntosh striking as well to move ahead 9-7. It was a one-goal game entering the fourth, prompting Bakoc to pour out three more goals for the Trojan cause while Cal managed just one as USC topped off a 12-9 win with Bakoc’s seventh of the day.

BAKOC’S BREAKOUT BRINGS FIRST MPSF HONOR
Days after drilling a career-high seven goals in a single game, USC senior Verica Bakoc landed her first career selection as MPSF Player of the Week on March 22. In back-to-back MPSF wins at California over the weekend, Bakoc helped her top-ranked Trojans stay undefeated on the year with her offensive output. In the first matchup with the Golden Bears, Bakoc delivered two goals on three shots and added a steal as USC beat Cal 17-11. The next day, in a tighter affair with the Bears, Bakoc was the spark USC needed. The left-handed senior sizzled in seven goals on nine shots, more than doubling her previous career high of three goals and scoring the third-most goals in a single game by a Trojan with her seven-goal onslaught in USC’s 12-9 victory over Cal. With 19 goals already this season, Bakoc has eclipsed her previous season best of 14 goals. She is the second Trojans to earn MPSF Player of the Week honors this season, following senior Maud Megens’ selection on Feb. 16.

MPSF WELCOMES BACK MEGENS WITH WEEKLY AWARD
In her first game back with the Trojans since May 2019, Maud Megens drummed up five goals in USC’s 2021 season-opening win over UC Irvine. For her dominant efforts, Megens was selected as the MPSF Player of the Week on Feb. 16. It’s the sixth such honor for Megens, who took the 2020 season off to train with the Dutch National Team in preparation for Olympic Qualifying. With Megens’ help, the Netherlands earned Olympic qualification last month to book a trip to Tokyo this summer. Now back in the water with her USC team, Megens stands tall for the Trojans. In addition to the five goals she scored for USC against UC Irvine, Megens also delivered four assists and had a steal in the 12-7 win. Megens is the first to earn MPSF Player of the Week accolades this season as women’s competition gets underway for 2021.

STRONG START
Almost a year to the day since its last competition at Uytengsu Aquatics Center, No. 1 USC got right back to business in drumming up a 12-7 win over visiting UC Irvine on Feb. 13. The Anteaters were actually USC’s last opponent at Uytengsu — a 9-6 Trojan win on Feb. 15, 2020. In this 2021 season opener, USC was powered up by a five-goal outing from Maud Megens and backed up by nine saves from Holly Parker to help the top-ranked Trojans to a 1-0 start to 2021. After Grace Tehaney lit the fuse on USC’s offensive efforts with a goal in the first minute, Maud Megens had a hat trick by the close the first quarter as USC netted a 4-1 lead after eight minutes of action. Goalie Holly Parker would snuff an early Anteater 6-on-5 chance with a save, and then Kelsey McIntosh found Téa Poljak for a score that got USC up 5-1 early in the second. UC Irvine converted on a power play later, only to see Megens hit Denise Mammolito for a 6-on-5 slam 10 seconds before the halftime buzzer, and USC was up 6-2 at the break. In the third, the Anteaters managed back-to-back goals to make it 6-4, only to see Megens bust out a laser on a 6-on-5 and then strike on the counter to build back that four-goal lead. Entering the fourth, USC was up 9-6, and the Trojans stayed in full control with three more goals in the final frame. Verica Bakoc struck first, and after Parker squashed an Anteater 5-meter penalty shot it was freshman Julia Janov who notched her first goal as a Trojan to take USC ahead 11-6. UC Irvine got a 6-on-5 to go next, but Grace Tehaney would wrap up her hat trick to get USC ahead 12-7, and the Trojans held tight to that lead the rest of the way.

SUPER SENIORS
Captains Denise Mammolito and Kelsey McIntosh — both All-Americans — are back for a fifth season at USC after having their eligibility extended with last season’s mid-March cancellation, which had stalled out the 12-1 Trojans while ranked No. 1 in the nation. Mammolito and McIntosh’s experience and leadership is bolstered further by the return of All-American Maud Megens, who took the 2020 season off to train with her Dutch National Team. With the Netherlands’ Olympic qualification earned last month, Megens is back in the water with her fellow Women of Troy. USC’s depth charge of leadership includes another All-American in her fifth season at USC — goalie Holly Parker reflects the balance in the Trojans’ pool of experience for 2021. That foursome, along with seniors Verica Bakoc, Sabrina Garabet, Kari Jensen and Randi Reinhardt, already have one NCAA championship ring from 2018. And after missing the chance to claim a crown last season, this senior group is bound and determined to bring another trophy back to Troy in 2021.

DEPTH CHARGE
Seniors Verica Bakoc and Sabrina Garabet are joined by All-American Grace Tehaney as the Trojans’ trio of left-handed sharpshooters on the perimeter. More All-American talent shines though in junior Bayley Weber, with her ability to be a force at both ends of the pool. Fellow junior Claire Haas has grown in her role at the two-meter slot, where Randi Reinhardt also checks in and junior Mireia Guiral has proven herself an All-American power. Starting up their second seasons at USC, the Trojans have Brooklyn Aguilera, Christina Crum and Téa Poljak in line for increased action in 2021, along another solid junior in Sophia Lucas. Additionally, USC has a welcome boost of fresh talent in a set of four true freshmen in the field — Abigail Hendrix, Julia Janov, Hannah Meyer and Taylor Vangrin.

CAGE FIGHTERS
Meanwhile, USC’s goalkeeping corps has a formidable stash of experience and skill. All-American Holly Parker is the veteran of the group, but both redshirt sophomore Erin Tharp and true sophomore Carolyne Stern saw time between the pipes last year. All told, USC’s defense will have a reliable red cap backing it up regardless of who checks in. And with defensive savvy abounding, USC has all the ingredients to be a dangerous counterattacking team as well.

PINTA’S PROGRAM
An All-American and national champion as a player at USC, Marko Pintaric is in his second season as head coach of the USC men’s and women’s water polo teams. A long-time assistant coach, associate head coach and co-head coach for the Trojans, Pintaric officially was named USC’s new leader in August 2019. When the 2020 women’s season was cut short due to the coronavirus pandemic, Pintaric had the USC women ranked No. 1 in the nation. This year, Pintaric aims to help propel the Women of Troy to a seventh national championship. •

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