Haralabidis' heroics lead USC to NCAA women's water polo title

Stephania Haralabidis scored from near mid-pool with six seconds left to make USC women's water polo the 2016 national champions, defeating Stanford 8-7 Sunday at UCLA after nearly blowing a two-goal lead in the final 52 seconds. Haralabidis scored five goals to pace USC, which won its fifth national title in women's water polo and fourth since the NCAA started sponsoring a national championship in the sport.

The Trojans went ahead 7-5 with 52 seconds remaining thanks to a late shot-clock goal from team captain Brianna Daboub, but MPSF Newcomer of the Year Kat Klass responded with two goals in the next 41 seconds for the Cardinal, the last one deflecting off a USC defender to make it 7-7 with 11 seconds remaining. Off the restart, Haralabidis fired a shot from beyond 10 meters that beat Stanford goalkeeper Julia Hermann, and Jordan Raney's Hail Mary-heave at the horn was stymied by Trojan goalkeeper Amanda Longan.

The crazy ending just adds to a recent list of wild finishes in NCAA women's water polo title game history. USC outlasted Stanford in triple sudden death OT in 2013 in the longest NCAA women's water polo title game ever played (45 minutes, 47 seconds), while Stanford defeated UCLA in the 2015 national championship game on a penalty shot with 11 seconds left after UCLA called timeout without having possession.

USC drew first blood thanks to a Haralabidis penalty shot with 6:15 remaining in the first, but Stanford responded less than a minute later with a 6-on-5 goal off the right arm of Shannon Cleary. The Trojans had a couple more opportunities to reclaim the lead in the first quarter but Hermann stoned Haralabidis on a one-on-nobody and Avery Peterson went bar-out on a step-out from two meters.

USC started to pull away early in the second quarter before a late Katie Dudley goal for Stanford cut USC's lead to 3-2 heading into halftime. Haralabidis' second goal put the Trojans up 2-1 at the 5:58 mark off a skip shot that went bar-in from the perimeter, followed by center Brigitta Games redirecting a cross pass into the frame on a 6-on-5. Defensively, the Trojans clamped down on the Cardinal, forcing Stanford to dump it and take harassed shots. Longan was instrumental as well, coming out of the cage to steal entry passes.

USC again outscored Stanford 2-1 in the third period to take a 5-3 lead heading into the fourth. Cardinal frosh Madison Berggren leveled the score at 3-3 off a 6-on-5 strike with 5:32 remaining in the third, but Haralabidis immediately responded for the Trojans with a laser beam to the upper right 90 of the frame right after their own power play expired. The junior from Greece added her fourth of the game from nearly the same spot she put home her third, this one coming on the 6-on-5 with four seconds left in the period.

Stanford got within 5-4 off a Berggren lob shot with 5:06 left, but again, USC had an immediate answer, this time from Games to make it 6-4 at the 4:40 mark and force a Stanford timeout. Stanford again cut the deficit to one on a Jordan Raney power-play goal with 3:20 remaining before the final sequence of madness ensued. Here's a look at the game-tying goal from Klass with 11 seconds left.

USC went 2-for-4 on the power play, while Stanford posted a 4-for-7 6-on-5 effort. Longan had nine saves and three steals in cage for the Trojans, while Hermann halted 11 USC shots on frame. 

In addition to scoring five times, Haralabidis assisted on two of the three goals she didn't score. Stanford freshmen Berggren and Klass paced the Cardinal with two goals apiece.

In consolation action, UCLA took home third-place honors after defeating Michigan 5-4, while Arizona State defeated UC San Diego 8-2 to secure a fifth-place finish.

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