No. 5 USC Women’s Water Polo Hosts MPSF Opener Saturday Against No. 2 Cal

Courtesy: USC Athletics

#5 USC (13-4, 0-0) vs. #2 California (11-3, 1-0) 
Saturday, March 23 | 12 p.m. | Uytengsu Aquatics Center 
Series Record: USC leads 50-18 (W27)
Last Meeting: USC 16, CAL 10 (April 29, 2024)
TV: Pac-12 Networks (Announcer: Greg Mescall) 

No. 5 USC is back in home waters this week to set up for its first MPSF matchup of the season. The Trojans (13-4) play host to No. 2 California (11-3, 1-0 MPSF) in a televised clash at 12 p.m. on Saturday (March 23) at Uytengsu Aquatics Center.

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 March 20), USC currently stands at No. 5 in the nation.

USC took a tough road loss in Honolulu with a 9-8 defeat to No. 4 Hawai’i last week. The Trojans tried to reel in the Rainbow Wahine in the second half, but came up short of a comeback push to go to 13-4 overall on the year. USC and Hawai’i were in a tug-of-war in Honolulu, as the Trojans edged ahead 3-2 in the second period on a 6-on-5 finish from Julia Janov. That was the only lead the Trojans would hold, however. The Rainbow Wahine moved ahead 4-3 at halftime, although USC would tie it up twice in the third on a second blast from Janov and then after goals from Rachel Gazzaniga and Morgan Netherton. The 6-6 lockup would be broken by the host with 19 seconds left in the third, and Hawai’i would stay out ahead the rest of the way. Ava Stryker and Gazzaniga scored later in the fourth to make it a one-goal game, but USC would get no closer to its hosts, as Hawai’i held on to win it 9-8.
– With two goals scored, Gazzaniga continues to lead USC in scoring, now with 35 goals this season..
– With a two goals, FR Ava Stryker has now scored at least one goal in USC’s last 11 games.
– With goals, Stryker, Gazzaniga and SR Julia Janov, have now each scored in a team-high 15 games this season.
– Gazzaniga and Janov lead USC with 11 multiple-goal games apiece this season.

Now 16 games deep into 2024, USC’s balanced scoring charge is led by Rachel Gazzaniga with 35 goals, followed by Ava Stryker with 34, Alejandra Aznar with 32, and Julia Janov with 31. 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 13-4 mark, led by senior Carolyne Stern. Stern is averaging 8.3 saves per game thanks in part to her four 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 7.8 saves per game to anchor a Trojan defense giving up 7.3 goals per game. USC has outscored opponents 229-124 so far, while holding teams scoreless in 10 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. 5 all-time among USC goalies, now holding 502 career saves to stand just behind No. 4 Tumua Anae’s 534 saves from 2007-10. Alejandra Aznar, meanwhile, is up to No. 23 all-time in career scoring with 131 goals — four goals shy of tying No. 22 Joelle Bekhazi’s total of 135 from 2009-11.

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).

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.

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. •

Leave a Reply

Notify of

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments