USC Women’s Water Polo Starts 2021 Season Ranked At No. 1
Many members of USC's women's water polo team found themselves with a strange craving a couple months ago.
The taxing stretch of extra training sessions used to feel like more of a chore. But this season? Well, the Women of Troy found themselves perfectly happy to hop in the water and push themselves no matter the time of day.
The sudden cancellation of the 2020 season and the months and months of at-home training during the pandemic left the USC women absolutely starved for pool time together. When the opportunity finally arose to splash down together at Uytengsu Aquatics Center again, these Trojans embraced it, and they've only been getting hungrier for competition to come. This 2021 season offers USC a chance to start where it left off in 2020 — as the top-ranked team in the nation and with a fierce appetite to win it all.
"Our women's team was hungry to win last season, and that hunger has transferred into this season," USC head coach Marko Pintaric said. "Their desire to win and to compete is at the same level."
Much credit goes to USC's 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.
— USC Water Polo (@USCWaterPolo) February 8, 2021
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.
"Our super seniors who are back for their fifth season really have shown their dedication to USC and their team," Pintaric said. "They'd really like to leave their careers with another championship. It's a pleasure coaching this type of senior group."
That foursome, along with 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.
"I see for this group the same kind of consistency we had last season," Pintaric said. "I see them competing for and winning a national championship as well. And that's a tribute to our leadership. We are blessed to have a great group of committed players that can play and fill every position."
Seniors Bakoc and 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, whom Pintaric tabs as the "motor of the team" 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 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.
Meanwhile, USC's goalkeeping corps has a formidable stash of experience and skill. All-American 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.
"Our defense will be key in starting our fast break, and we have plenty of players with speed who can handle that and make us dangerous in transition," Pintaric said. "My overall belief is that we really do have a talented and strong group of women who are hungry to win."
Our Olympic sports, like @USCWaterPolo, have not competed since March.
— USC Trojans (@USC_Athletics) January 2, 2021