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No. 1 USC Women’s Water Polo Faces No. 5 ASU In Final Home Games of 2021

Apr 14, 2021

#1 USC (14-0, 8-0 MPSF) vs. #5 Arizona State (12-7, 6-4)
Uytengsu Aquatics Center
Series Record: USC leads 33-2 (W12)
Last Meeting: USC 6, ASU 5 (Feb. 27, 2021)
Saturday, April 17 | 12 p.m.
Sunday, April 18 | 11 a.m. 

No. 1 USC has its final home games of the season on the docket this weekend, hosting No. 5 Arizona State for back-to-back MPSF matchups at Uytengsu Aquatics Center. The undefeated Trojans (14-0, 8-0  MPSF) will first face the Sun Devils (12-7, 6-4) at 12 p.m. on Saturday (April 17). On Sunday (April 18), the teams are  set to square off at 11 a.m. Before Sunday's game, USC will honor the eight graduating members of the team — Verica Bakoc, Nina Ceklic, Kari Jensen, Denise Mammolito, Kelsey McIntosh, Maud Megens, Holly Parker and Randi Reinhardt — in a Senior Day ceremony. As of April 13, following state and county public health approvals, USC's remaining 2021 outdoor home spring sports events will be open to a limited number of family members and guests of participating student-athletes and coaches.

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 April 14).

The No. 5 Sun Devils are 12-7 overall and 6-4 in MPSF play after beating UCLA 8-6 and then falling to the Bruins 11-10 last week. Luca Petovary leads ASU in scoring with 38 goals. Goalie Chelsea Karimazondo is averaging 8.4 saves and 7.2 goals-against per game in her 12 appearances. In a series dating back to 2003, USC is 33-2 all-time against Arizona State after getting two wins over the Sun Devils earlier this year in 10-8 and 6-5 Trojan victories in Tempe. The teams did not face off last year due to the midseason cancellation of competition resulting from the coronavirus pandemic.

Now 14 games deep into 2021 action, Denise Mammolito leads the Trojans in scoring with 38 goals, followed by Verica Bakoc with 30. Meanwhile, in the 20-goal realm to date, are Maud Megens and Grace Tehaney with 25 and 24 goals, respectively. In all, 14 different Trojans have scored so far this year. On the defensive end, senior goalie Holly Parker — thanks in part to two career-high 12-saves outings recently — is averaging 8.5 saves and 7.2 goals-against per game in her 10 appearances in the cage this season, while sophomore Carolyne Stern has appeared in five games, averaging 7.1 saves and 7.3 goals-against per game, and Erin Tharp has checked in twice, making seven saves and allowing just four goals in 16 minutes of work. As a team, USC is averaging 13.1 goals per game offensively, while the defense has allowed 7.4 goals-against per game. The Trojans have held opponents scoreless in seven complete periods of regulation so far. 

CLIMB ON        
USC seniors Maud Megens, Denise Mammolito, Kelsey McIntosh and Holly Parker have all been working their ways up the USC career charts. Having cracked the all-time top-10 this season, Megens stands at No. 9 among USC's scoring leaders with 188 goals scored so far. Mammolito, meanwhile, is up to No. 12 all-time with 161 goals, and McIntosh is on the board at No. 28 with 114. Goalie Parker also has climbed the career ladder, now ranked as USC's No. 8 all-time goalie with 237 career saves. 

USC collected two key MPSF wins last weekend, beating No. 2 Stanford 12-8 and then winning 12-11 in overtime. In Saturday's test, USC made a power move in the fourth frame to create extra space, combining big defensive stops with big goals to turn a two-goal game into a decisive 12-8 Trojan victory over the Cardinal behind hat tricks from both Denise Mammolito and Maud Megens. The next day, Stanford stepped things up and had the Trojans trailing by two in the fourth period before Mammolito unleashed her fifth and sixth goals of the day to help force overtime. Mammolito's seventh goal proved to be the winner, while fellow senior Holly Parker hauled in two more huge saves on her way to a 12-save outing to join Mammolito with a career day in an epic 12-11 comeback OT thriller for the Trojans to stay undefeated on the year. 

Denise Mammolito's scoring hot streak flared up even brighter last weekend, with the captain compiling 10 goals across two wins for the top-ranked Trojans over No. 2 Stanford. For her high-powered efforts, Mammolito was named MPSF Player of the Week for the first time in her Trojan career on April 13. Mammolito has strung together multiple-goal games in the past six outings, moving herself into the No. 12 all-time scoring slot on USC's career charts. But last weekend's explosive efforts were particularly crucial.  She scored three goals in USC's 12-8 win over the Cardinal on Saturday, pulling the Trojans to one-goal leads on her first two goals and then pushing USC out to a two-goal lead in the third. The next day, Mammolito scored all five of USC's goals in the second half of play to key a comeback from a two-goal deficit and force overtime. In the first OT, her career-high seventh goal of the day stood as the game-winner in USC's 12-11 overtime victory to keep the Trojans undefeated on the year. Mammolito is the third Trojan to collect MPSF honors this season, following MPSF Player of the Week awards by Verica Bakoc and Maud Megens.

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. 

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. •