No. 4 USC Women’s Water Polo Heads To Tempe To Take On 10th-Ranked ASU

Courtesy: USC Athletics

#4 USC (16-5, 3-1) at #10 Arizona St. (22-6, 2-3)
Saturday, April 13 | 1 p.m.
Mona Plummer Aquatic Center | Tempe, Ariz.
Series Record (since 2003): USC leads 40-2 (W19)
Last Meeting: USC 15, ASU 11 (April 15, 2023)

USC continues its road stretch this week, as the No. 4 Trojans (16-5, 3-1 MPSF) pays a visit to No. 10 Arizona State (22-6, 2-3). Their MPSF matchup is set for 1 p.m.  on Saturday (April 13) at the Mona Plummer Aquatic Center in Tempe, Ariz.

USC opened up 2024 tied at No. 1 in the national rankings. After the first week of action, the Trojans stood alone at the top. In the latest round of rankings (released April 10), USC currently stands at No. 4 in the nation.

USC wound up with a road split last week, falling 10-8 at No. 4 Stanford before bouncing back with a 14-8 win at No. 17 San José State.

#4 Stanford 10, #3 USC 8

It was a two-goal game at halftime before another Stanford surge put the Trojans in another hole, and USC wound up with its first MPSF loss. USC struck first with a lovely lob from Julia Janov, only to see Stanford equalize on a 5-meter penalty shot to steal the momentum and shove off on a five-goal run. The Trojans snapped the rally with a fine finish from Rachel Gazzaniga off a 6-on-5 feed from Janov, but the Cardinal were granted another 5-meter look 30 seconds later. Down 6-2, USC found its scoring touch in the final two minutes of the half, with Ava Stryker blasting back-to-back goals to make it a 6-4 margin for halftime. USC’s offense hit a snag in the third frame, however, while Stanford tacked up two goals to go up 8-4. The Cardinal claimed two more in the fourth, putting USC in a 10-4 hole with 4:20 to go. The Trojan defense stepped back up and silenced Stanford down the stretch, and the offense clicked off four goals from the hands of Morgan Netherton, Gazzaniga, Janov and Meghan McAninch, but time was not on USC’s side in the end.

#3 USC 14, #17 San José State 8

Goalie Carolyne Stern collected nine saves on the day to move up to rank No. 4 all-time in career saves at USC while 10 Trojans scored in the win over the Spartans. The USC defense pitched a first-frame shutout while building out an early 3-0 lead on scores from Rachel GazzanigaAva Stryker and Abigail Hendrix. Gazzaniga kicked off the second period with a two-meter finish off a feed from Julia Janov, tugging the Trojans shred 4-0 before the Spartans got on the board a minute later. Maggie Johnson found Hannah Meyer for a tip-in goal that had USC up 5-1, although the Spartans would get two goals through before halftime to make it a 5-3 margin. USC made its power move in the third, with Alejandra Aznar faking and firing, then assisting on a zinger from Meyer as USC moved ahead 7-3. San José State struck next, only to see the Trojans fire off a four-goal rally to take total control of things. Morgan Netherton fizzed in a 5-meter penalty shot earned by Gazzaniga, and the Aznar delivered her second goal of the day. With Alex Bonaguidi doing work at set, USC finished off a pair of 6-on-5 opportunities next. Brooklyn Aguilera dished to Isabel Zimmerman for a ripper that had USC ahead 10-4, and then Zimmerman found Bonaguidi for a blast that pushed it to an 11-4 USC advantage. With her nine saves in the books, Stern gave way to Laine Hourigan in the goal for the final frame. Stryker struck again to open the fourth, and two new Trojan scorers would get to the back of the net before the final buzzer. Aguilera finished off a feed from Jelena Sarac to make it 13-6, and Janov had the last word of the day with a strike from distance to top off the Trojans’ 14-8 victory.

– FR Ava Stryker has now scored in USC’s last 15 games.
– Stryker leads USC in scoring this season with 41 goals.
– FR Rachel Gazzaniga is now even with SR Julia Janov with a team-high 14 multiple-goal outings this season.
– Stryker and Janov have now each scored in a team-high 19 games this season.
– With nine saves vs. SJSU, SR Carolyne Stern now ranks No. 4 all-time at USC with 540 career saves.

USC swept the MPSF weekly awards after the Trojans captured a key win over No. 2 California. Both instrumental in the victory, Carolyne Stern and Ava Stryker secured their first honors of the season, with Stern selected as MPSF Player of the Week and Stryker as MPSF Newcomer of the Week. Stern hauled in 12 saves in No. 5 USC’s 8-7 win over No. 2 Cal, making several key stops in the fourth period to stymie the Golden Bears’ attempts at a late comeback. It was Stern’s fifth double-digit save outing of the season, and helped USC improve to 14-4 overall with a 1-0 mark in MPSF competition. This is Stern’s second career selection as MPSF Player of the Week, last earned in 2022. Stryker was 3-for-5 shooting in against the Golden Bears. She scored twice in the first period to help keep USC even with Cal, tying it up 3-3 in that first frame. In the third, Stryker finished a USC 6-on-5 for her third goal and an 8-5 USC lead, proving to stand as the game-winning goal as USC emerged with the 8-7 win. She also notched a steal, assist and drawn exclusion in the victory. With her hat trick vs. Cal, Stryker now leads USC in scoring with 37 goals, and she has scored at least a goal in USC’s last 12 games.

Now 21 games deep into 2024, USC’s balanced scoring charge is led by Ava Stryker and Rachel Gazzaniga with 41 goals each, followed Julia Janov with 39, and Alejandra Aznar with 36. In all, 17 Trojans have scored at least one goal to date, including six with their first goals as Trojans. Defensively, three USC goalies have factored into the 16-5 mark, led by senior Carolyne Stern. Stern is averaging 8.7 saves per game thanks in part to her five double-digit save outings this year. USC’s other two goalies — Laine Hourigan and Jada Ward — are in their second season of action as Trojans. Overall, the group averages 8.2 saves per game to anchor a Trojan defense giving up 7.5 goals per game. USC has outscored opponents 272-157 so far, while holding teams scoreless in 11 different periods to date.

Two Trojans are on the rise in the USC history books with their work this season. Goalie Carolyne Stern has moved up to No. 4 all-time among USC goalies, now holding 540 career saves after passing up Olympian Tumua Anae’s 534 saves from 2007-10. Alejandra Aznar, meanwhile, is up to No. 22 all-time in career scoring with 135 goals — two goals shy of tying No. 21 Erika Figge’s total of 137 from 2004-07.

International experience has been key to USC’s development of versatile players. The USA pipeline has crafted a number of outstanding Trojans — past, present and future, including Team USA’s Emily Ausmus, who deferred her freshman enrollment at USC in order to train for the 2024 Olympics. Many other U.S. pipeline products will be capped up for USC this season, including Morgan NethertonRachel Gazzaniga and Ava Stryker, who competed for the USA at Junior Worlds this past summer. Abigail HendrixMaggie JohnsonMeghan McAninchHannah MeyerCarolyne SternHonnie Vandeweghe-O’Shea, and Isabel Zimmerman also have capped up for the USA at the Youth level. Outside of the United States, several returning Trojans have also gathered international experience with other nations — Alejandra Aznar (Spain), Julia Janov (Slovakia), Emma Lawson (Canada), Fanni Muzsnay (Hungary), Jelena Sarac (Serbia).

CENTER STAGE            
USC is without one decorated Trojan international for 2024, as Olympian and Cutino Award finalist Tilly Kearns is training with Australia for the 2024 Olympic Games. That leaves a void at the center position for this season, but head coach Casey Moon has tapped into his handy toolkit in order to adjust. In addition to the proven work done at set by senior Hannah Meyer, Moon has eyes on incorporating newcomer national teamer Rachel Gazzaniga along with sophomore Alex Bonaguidi for increased action, with new addition Madison Haaland-Ford also in the mix at the center slot.

ON THE ATTACK            
In the field, USC is fueled by an arsenal of attackers along with deft defenders to go along with its center play. Molly GladAbigail HendrixEmma LawsonJelena Sarac and Honnie Vandeweghe-O’Shea are tabbed for duty on the defensive end, while also set to take aim offensively from the perimeter. USC’s onslaught of attackers features newcomers Meghan McAninch and Ava Stryker to go along with veterans Alejandra AznarJulia Janov and Fanni Muzsnay, who combined for 88 goals last season. As freshmen, attackers Maggie Johnson and Morgan Netherton pinned up a combine 34 goals. All versatile tools in Moon’s box of tricks, the USC attacking core also includes Brooklyn AguileraHannah CarverCaitlin CohenSally McCarthy and Isabel Zimmerman.

BACK IN ACTION            
USC boasts nine returners from USC’s 2023 NCAA roster, which reached the NCAA final in the program’s 19th straight trip to the postseason to finish with a 29-3 overall record. Maggie Johnson and Morgan Netherton were freshmen on that squad, bringing back key lessons learned along with the other seven members of the returning group that was on deck for that NCAA journey — Brooklyn AguileraAlejandra AznarMolly GladAbigail HendrixHannah MeyerCarolyne SternHonnie Vandeweghe-O’SheaJada Ward and Isabel Zimmerman.

CAPTAIN’S SALUTE            
Goalie Carolyne Stern is joined by Julia Janov and Maggie Johnson as team captains for 2024. All were instrumental in USC’s NCAA run last season, and Janov and Stern are now entering their fourth season playing together. That combined experience and leadership ability gives coach Moon the utmost confidence in his three captains, who are charged with setting the tone and the course for the Trojans in 2024.

CAGE FIGHTERS            
A 2023 All-American, Carolyne Stern enters her final season between the pipes. She’s been a steadying and reliable force in the cage for USC, thanks in part to the talented younger goalies in the water with her every day. Sophomore Jada Ward and redshirt sophomore Laine Hourigan both served as outstanding backups for Stern last year, and they are joined by two true freshmen this season in Anna Reed and Lauren Schneider to round out a formidable goalkeeping corps for the 2024 Trojans. In her first weekend of work, Stern surged to now rank as USC’s No. 6 all-time saves leader, now with 403 career saves to her name as a Trojan.

LAST SEASON            
In 2023, USC went 28-3 overall in a season that saw the Trojans make a 19th consecutive trip to the NCAA Tournament. USC posted a perfect 6-0 mark in MPSF competition before taking second place in the MPSF Tournament and later reaching a fifth consecutive NCAA final, where USC lost to Stanford. At the close of the season, Tilly Kearns was selected as a finalist for the Peter J. Cutino Award for the second straight season. She also was a First Team All-American along with Paige Hauschild and Bayley Weber. They were joined by fellow All-Americans Carolyne Stern (Honorable Mention) and Grace Tehaney (Honorable Mention). Head coach Marko Pintaric was named MPSF Coach of the Year for the third consecutive season, and Weber was named MPSF Player of the Year.

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