No. 1 USC Women’s Water Polo Seeks Seventh NCAA Championship
2021 National Collegiate Women's Water Polo Championship
Spieker Aquatics Center (Westwood, Calif.)
Opening Round: Wednesday, May 12
Marist vs. Salem — 11 a.m.
Fresno State vs. Cal Lutheran — 1 p.m.
Quarterfinals: Friday, May 14
Q1:  USC vs. Marist/Salem — 12 p.m.
Q2:  Arizona State vs. Michigan — 2 p.m.
Q3:  Stanford vs. Fresno St./Cal Lutheran — 4 p.m.
Q4:  UCLA vs. Hawai'i — 6 p.m.
Semifinals: Saturday, May 15
Q1 winner vs. Q2 winner — 3 p.m.
Q3 winner vs. Q4 winner — 5 p.m.
Championship: Sunday, May 16
Semifinal winners — 3 p.m.
No. 1 USC, fresh off a third consecutive victorious run to the MPSF Tournament title, has secured its 17th consecutive NCAA tournament berth in earning the No. 1 seed into this 2021 tournament. The Trojans will take a 19-1 record into the 2021 National Collegiate Women's Water Polo Championship, hosted this year by UCLA at the Spieker Aquatics Center from May 14-16. USC will be looking for its seventh national championship, having won its last title in 2018. The Trojans (19-1) will open the 2021 NCAA Tournament at 12 p.m. on May 14, playing the winner of Wednesday's Opening Round game between Marist (8-0) and Salem (18-11). In the other Opening Round game on May 12, Fresno State (12-5) will face Cal Lutheran (5-0) for the right to play No. 2 seed Stanford (12-5) on May 14. The other May 14 quarterfinal matchups are set: No. 4 seed Arizona State (13-11) takes on Michigan (21-4), while No. 3 seed UCLA (13-4) faces Hawai'i (11-1). Winners advance to May 15 semifinal rounds at 3 p.m. and 5 p.m., with the 2021 national championship bout set for 3 p.m. on May 16. All games, May 12-16, are being held at UCLA's Spieker Aquatics Center. Live stats and live stream links are all available at the NCAA Tournament Central page at uclabruins.com/feature/ncaawwp2021.
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 May 12).
Winners of six previous national championships, USC holds a 34-12 all-time record in NCAA tournaments. USC's last NCAA run in 2019 wound up with the Trojans edged out 9-8 in the title match by host Stanford. The Trojans were 12-1 overall and had hopes for a 2020 championship when competition was brought to a halt by the coronavirus pandemic. USC's first title came in 1999 before the NCAA sponsored women's water polo. In 2004, USC posted the first-ever undefeated season on the way to capturing the 2014 NCAA title. USC's third title came in 2010 — the last time the Trojans swept the MPSF coach, player and newcomer awards — in a championship won over Stanford. Three years later in 2013, the Trojans topped the Cardinal in tripe sudden-death overtime — the longest NCAA final in history — to claim a fourth national championship for USC. In another three years, USC was back on top once more, posting a second undefeated season en route to the 2016 NCAA Championship in another epic battle against Stanford. And 2018 brought USC its sixth crown in a defensive 5-4 win over Stanford at the Trojans' Uytengsu Aquatics Center. This year marks USC's 17th consecutive NCAA appearance and 17th overall, as the Trojans hold a 34-12 all-time record in NCAA tournament games since the even began in 2001. What's more, the Women of Troy have a chance to register the university's 109th NCAA team championship and 132nd team national championship with a run to this 2021 tourney title.
This year's National Collegiate field includes seven automatic qualifiers from conference championships and three at-large teams. Six teams qualify directly to the championship field, and the remaining four teams will compete in Opening Round games on May 12. Those winners will advance to quarterfinal games set for May 14, with semifinals held May 15 and the NCAA Championship game set for 3 p.m. on May 16. All games will be played at UCLA's Spieker Aquatics Center. Earning automatic berths this year — along with MPSF champion USC — are Michigan (CWPA), Fresno State (Golden Coast), Cal Lutheran (SCIAC), Hawai'i (Big West), Salem (WWPA) and Marist (MAAC). This year's at-large teams are Arizona State, Stanford and UCLA — all out of the MPSF.
LAST NCAA ACTION
As the 2020 season came to a midseason halt due to the coronavirus pandemic, the most recent NCAA Tournament was held in 2019 at Stanford. The Trojans were the top seed and carried a six-game win streak with a 26-1 overall record into the 2019 NCAA Tournament as an automatic qualifier as MPSF champion. USC opened with a 14-8 win over UC San Diego to earn a semifinal spot against No. 4 seed California. Back-to-back goals from Alejandra Aznar had USC up by two in the fourth, but Cal pushed back to level in and bring up overtime. That's where USC locked in, netting three goals to just one last-ditch strike by the Bears to claim a 10-8 final victory. In the final, USC was looking to make program history with a second straight NCAA title when the Trojans squared off against host Stanford. It was the third meeting in four years between USC and the Cardinal in the NCAA final, and this one was tied up eight times with six lead changes. Stanford converted two 5-meter penalty shots and two 6-on-5 opportunities in the second half to get a 9-8 victory and claim the 2019 crown. Mireia Guiral led all scorers with four goals for the Trojans. She would be one of five Trojans to earn NCAA All-Tournament Team honors. Maud Megens and Paige Hauschild were on the First Team, and Guiral, Denise Mammolito and Amanda Longan were on the Second Team.
USC scored the top seed into the 2021 MPSF Tournament and was a force to reckon with at the event held April 30-May 2 in Tempe, Ariz. The Trojans earned a first-round bye and would meet up with host Arizona State in the semifinals — the fifth meeting between USC and the Sun Devils this season. Nine Trojans scored in a 16-8 win, led by Bayley Weber's season-high four-goal outburst. In the title match, USC was up against Stanford, and it was a one-goal game entering the fourth period. There, the Trojans got two goals apiece from seniors Maud Megens and Kelsey McIntosh, while goalie Holly Parker worked her way to a 10-save performance to lock up at third straight MPSF crown with a 9-6 win over the Cardinal. For the second time in the past three MPSF Tournaments held, Maud Megens picked up top honors as MPSF Tournament MVP. Denise Mammolito and Holly Parker also earned MPSF All-Tournament Team honors.
BY THE NUMBERS
Now entering 2021 NCAA action, Denise Mammolito leads the Trojans in scoring with 45 goals, followed by Maud Megens with 37, Verica Bakoc with 34 and Grace Tehaney with 30. In all, 15 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 8.3 saves and 7.3 goals-against per game in her 16 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 12.0 goals per game offensively, while the defense has allowed 7.4 goals-against per game. The Trojans have held opponents scoreless in 10 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 200 goals scored so far — five away from taking over the No. 8 position. Mammolito, meanwhile, is up to No. 12 all-time with 168 goals — three from the No. 11 spot — and McIntosh is on the board at No. 23 with 121. Goalie Parker also has climbed the career ladder, now ranked as USC's No. 8 all-time goalie with 285 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. •