No. 1 USC Women’s Water Polo Looks For Third Straight MPSF Tourney Title
2021 MPSF Tournament
Mona Plummer Aquatic Center (Tempe, Ariz.)
Friday, April 30
Game 1:  UCLA vs.  San José State — 9 a.m.
Game 2:  Stanford vs.  Indiana — 11:30 a.m.
Game 3:  California vs.  Arizona State — 2 p.m.
Saturday, May 1
Game 4: Game 1 vs. Game 2 losers — 9 a.m.
Semi 1: Game 1 vs. Game 2 winners — 11:30 a.m.
Semi 2:  USC vs. Game 3 winner — 2 p.m.
Sunday, May 2
Fifth Place: Game 3 loser vs. Game 4 winner — 9 a.m.
Third Place — 11:30 a.m.
Championship — 2 p.m.
TOURNAMENT CENTRAL | LIVE STATS | LIVE STREAMS ($$)
No. 1 USC has its eyes on claiming a third consecutive MPSF Tournament title as the Trojans splash down in Tempe, Ariz., holding the top seed for this 2021 MPSF Tournament. The event runs April 30-May 2 at Mona Plummer Aquatic Center, but the Trojans (17-1) have earned a first-round bye to move straight to the semifinals at 2 p.m. on Saturday (May 1). There, USC will face either No. 4 seed California or No. 5 seeded host Arizona State. A win would put the Trojans in contention to defend its back-to-back MPSF crowns won in 2018 and 2019, as the 2020 tournament was not held due to the coronavirus pandemic. The 2021 MPSF title match is set for 2 p.m. on Sunday (May 2), preceded by an 11:30 a.m. third-place game. The tournament champion receives an automatic berth in the coming 2021 NCAA Tournament. All MPSF Tournament games will be streamed at mpsports.org/watch for a fee.
USC started its 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, still at No. 1 in this latest set of national rankings (released April 28).
The seven-team MPSF Tournament is back after last year's cancellation due to the coronavirus pandemic. The host of this year's event is Arizona State, with action being held at Mona Plummer Aquatic Center. Top-seeded USC — the defending champion as the 2018 and 2019 victors — has earned a bye into the semifinals, while the other six teams have quarterfinals lined up for opening day. The seedings shake out with USC (17-1) as the No. 1 seed, followed by No. 2 UCLA (11-3), No. 3 Stanford (10-4), No. 4 California (11-6), No. 5 Arizona State (12-9), No. 6 Indiana (9-15) and No. 7 San José State (2-14).
THIS TIME LAST YEAR
The 2020 MPSF Tournament was not held due to the cancellation of all national competition on March 20 due to the coronavirus pandemic. USC had been ranked No. 1 in the nation and held a 12-1 overall record when the 2020 season was brought to a halt.
2019 TOURNEY TITLEIST
After a 4-1 finish in the MPSF regular season, the Trojans were 23-1 overall and the No. 2 seed into the 2019 MPSF Tournament. The Trojans opened up against No. 7 seeded MPSF newcomer Indiana and beat the Hoosiers 19-3 to move into the semifinals against No. 3 seed UCLA. USC would score three unanswered goals in under three minutes to build out a 9-4 win over the Bruins in a balanced offensive effort that was backed up by 11 saves by goalie Amanda Longan. Up against top-seeded host Stanford in the title match, USC shrugged off a two-goal deficit in the fourth period and forced overtime, where the Trojans would eventually net the golden goal on Paige Hauschild's blast from 10 meters out after almost 41 minutes of action to beat Stanford 9-8 and win USC's second consecutive MPSF Tournament championship. At the close of the event, Paige Hauschild was named the 2019 MPSF Tournament MVP, joined by teammates Amanda Longan and Maud Megens on the All-Tournament Team. Megens had been named the MVP last year, and goalie Longan also scored the award in 2016.
BY THE NUMBERS
Now entering 2021 postseason play, Denise Mammolito leads the Trojans in scoring with 42 goals, followed by Verica Bakoc with 33, Maud Megens with 32 and Grace Tehaney with 28. 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-save outings recently — is averaging 8.2 saves and 7.3 goals-against per game in her 12 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 11.9 goals per game offensively, while the defense has allowed 7.4 goals-against per game. The Trojans have held opponents scoreless in nine complete periods of regulation so far.
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 195 goals scored so far. Mammolito, meanwhile, is up to No. 12 all-time with 165 goals, and McIntosh is on the board at No. 26 with 117. Goalie Parker also has climbed the career ladder, now ranked as USC's No. 8 all-time goalie with 267 career saves.
GUIRAL GETS ANOTHER MPSF HONOR
USC junior Mireia Guiral became the fourth Trojan to earn MPSF Player of the Week honors this season after her efforts in helping to keep top-ranked USC undefeated with two more wins over ASU. The two-meter force was a perfect 4-for-4 shooting and drew four exclusions for the Trojans in those back-to-back wins over the Sun Devils. In the first meeting, Guiral scored both her goals in the second half as USC made its comeback push to win 10-8 after trailing in the second period. The next day, Guiral scored twice again, also drawing three exclusions and adding an assist on USC's final goal in an 11-8 win over the Sun Devils. Guiral also had a steal in each game. It was Guiral's second MPSF Player of the Week selection in her USC career.
MAMMOLITO GOES BIG FOR FIRST MPSF WEEKLY AWARD
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.
BAKOC'S BREAKOUT BRINGS FIRST MPSF HONOR
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.
MPSF WELCOMES BACK MEGENS WITH WEEKLY AWARD
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.
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.
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.
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.
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. •