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No. 1 USC Women’s Water Polo Turns To Tournament Action At Triton Invite

Feb 9, 2022

THIS WEEK        
No. 1 USC (4-0) gets its first taste of tournament action this week, setting up camp in La Jolla for competition at the 2022 Triton Invitational. In bracket play on Saturday (Feb. 12), the top-seeded Trojans first face No. 16 UC Santa Barbara in a 9:20 a.m. clash before taking on No. 13 Long Beach State at 1:20 p.m. Two wins that day would push USC into the 10:40 a.m. semifinal on Sunday (Feb. 13) against the victor of Bracket D. The championship game is set for 5:20 p.m., preceded by a 4 p.m. third-place game.

USC start up 2022 in the same spot it left off, with the defending NCAA champs opening up at No. 1 in this year's preseason poll. In the latest national rankings (released Feb. 9), the Trojans remain the top-ranked team in the nation.

After a year off in 2021 due to the scheduling impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, The Triton Invitational is back in action for 2022. This year's edition features 15 teams in action at UC San Diego. The teams will open up action on Saturday playing amongst four brackets, designated as follows:
Bracket A: #1 USC, #13 Long Beach State, #16 UC Santa Barbara
Bracket B: #3 UCLA, #12 UC San Diego, #19 San Diego State, Santa Clara
Bracket C: #10 UC Davis, #5 Michigan, #20 LMU, Pomona-Pitzer
Bracket D: #7 UC Irvine, #6 Hawai'i, CSUN, #23 Marist
On Sunday, semifinals and placement games will be held. USC had won six consecutive titles at the event before a second-place finish in 2020. Follow along at the 2022 Triton Invitational web page.

USC grabbed two more wins last week, beating Fresno State 15-11 at Uytengsu Aquatics Center before posting a 20-3 win over San José State at the UCLA Mini Invite the next day Against the Bulldogs, the Trojans' offensive output was spread among eight Trojans, with Tilly Kearns and Bayley Weber firing off four apiece to lead the charge. Four different Trojans struck in the first frame as USC rolled out to a 4-2 lead in the first eight minutes. Weber and Kearns would notch their second goals in the next stretch, while Mireia Guiral and Grace Tehaney also joined the scoresheet as USC led it 8-4 by halftime. In the second half, the Trojans were clicking on both ends, shutting down the Bulldogs while netting some nice goals at the other end. Paige Hauschild delivered a picture-perfect pass to Sophia Lucas for a tip-in that had USC up 9-4, and she'd set up Weber for her third goal soon after. Weber would go on a solo mission later, nabbing a steal, drawing an exclusion and then finishing it off for her fourth to get USC ahead 11-4. Fresno State finally broke through with 17 seconds left, and it was 11-5 USC entering the fourth. The Bulldogs managed to get in a groove in the final stretch, netting six goals in that frame, but the Trojans remained in control. Kearns punched up two more to open things up, and Guiral notched her second after a 5-meter penalty shot converted by Téa Poljak, and USC emerged with the final 15-11 decision. The next morning in Westwood, USC poured out 14 straight goals to put No. 11 San José State well out of reach on the way to a 20-3 Trojan victory at the UCLA Mini Invitational at Spieker Aquatics Center. Paige Hauschild delivered five of those USC strikes, pulling the redshirt junior up to No. 19 all-time in career scoring while 10 other Trojans also got on the scoresheet with goals. Two USC goalies also got in on the defensive action for the stingy Trojans. Carolyn Stern and Erin Tharp split time in the cage, with each hauling in one shutout frame for the Trojan cause. Stern saw the Spartans strike early, but then no more SJSU goals broke through while the Trojan offense peppered the cage to take a 14-1 lead by halftime. Ten different Trojans scored during those first 16 minutes as USC spread the wealth. Hauschild had a pair in place by the break, as did Bayley Weber, Grace Tehaney and Tilly Kearns.As Tharp took over the cage in the second half, USC's scoring rally was extended when Julia Janov became USC's 11th scorer on the day. San José State broke up USC's surge with a 6-on-5 score, only to see Hauschild rattle in three goals in 2:30 to help boost USC ahead 18-3 entering the fourth. There, Tharp and the USC defense silenced the Spartans while Honnie Vandeweghe-O'Shea and Brooklyn Aguilera hammered home their second scores of the day to round out a 20-3 Trojan victory.

BY THE NUMBERS            
Four games into the new year, USC had four Trojans already in double digits on the offensive end. Tilly Kearns leads the way with 16 goals, followed closely by 12 apiece from Paige Hauschild and Bayley Weber and then Mireia Guiral with 10. That group has scored in all four games, as have Grace Tehaney and Claire Haas. Defensively, Carolyne Stern and Erin Tharp have shared time in the cage, averaging a combined 6.8 saves per game to anchor a Trojan defense giving up just 5.0 goals per game. USC has outscored opponents 99-20 so far, while holding teams scoreless in five different periods to date.

ON THE RISE            
Last weekend, Bayley Weber worked her way into the 100-goal club at USC, now holding 104 career goals as a Trojan. Meanwhile, Paige Hauschild is also on the climb, having cracked the top-20 all-time at USC with her 129 career goals to rank No. 19 in the Trojan history books to date.

For the first time since 2009, USC will have two Trojans in the water coming off of Olympic experiences in 2020 Olympians Paige Hauschild (USA) and Tilly Kearns (Australia). Extra International influx comes from Spain's Alejandra Aznar, who also took time away from USC to train with her national team for the Games, although she did not compete in Tokyo. That trio last capped up together as Trojans in 2019 — Hauschild's sophomore season and the first for Kearns and Aznar. That year, they scored a combined 119 goals — almost 30 percent of USC's total output in a season that saw the Trojans win the MPSF Tournament and come  up just short of the 2019 NCAA title. Altogether, they are a triple threat all their own. Hauschild wields a ferocious outside shot that combines with immense strength as a defender. Kearns is a proven force at the two-meter spot. And Aznar boasts a deft left hand to give USC's balance a depth charge. But offensive firepower only scratches the surface of their overall value to the Trojans this season. 

BACK TO  IT            
Headlining USC's returning talent pool are returning All-Americans Mireia Guiral, Grace Tehaney and Bayley Weber. They pumped in a combined 93 goals, including six in the 18-9 NCAA championship victory last year. Similar to the versatility of Hauschild, Kearns and Aznar, respectively, this trio offers up defensive strength in Weber, two-meter prowess in Guiral and a left-handed laser in Tehaney. Just a freshman in 2021, Julia Janov gleaned invaluable experience as a member of that championship squad, while relative veterans Sabrina Garabet and Sophia Lucas also soaked in significant playing time to solidify their roles as leaders this year. And on the defensive end, USC has two strong goalies returning to help anchor the Trojans in upperclassmen Erin Tharp and Carolyne Stern. 

NEW NORMAL             
As it looks now, this will be the first "normal" season for USC women's water polo following two years impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. USC's 2020 campaign was cut short with the Trojans ranked No. 1 in the nation. And 2021 featured a modified schedule with expanded MPSF competition and minimal nonconference competition en route to the Trojans' run to the national championship. As 2022 competition kicks off on Saturday (Jan. 29), USC is looking toward another powerful season that ultimately will see the Trojans maneuver into yet another NCAA appearance. USC has made it to all 17 NCAA tournaments, with no plans to change course. The Trojans also have the benefit of hosting this year's MPSF Tournament, which will run April 22-24 at Uytengsu Aquatics Center.

LAST SEASON            
In 2021, USC dropped just one game all season (22-1) en route to a record-breaking win in the NCAA championship game that marked USC's seventh national championship and first under head coach Marko Pintaric. The Trojans beat Stanford 9-6 in the MPSF Tournament title match and later avenged their only loss of the year with a dominant 18-9 win over UCLA in the national championship game, scoring the most goals ever in an NCAA final. Eventual Cutino Award winner Maud Megens scored six of those goals for the Trojans. She would also be named National Player of the Year, and Pintaric was picked as National Coach of the Year. Megens was one of a program record-tying eight All-Americans in 2021, joined on the All-America First Team by fellow seniors Denise Mammolito and Holly Parker. Junior Bayley Weber earned Second Team status, and senior Kelsey McIntosh was a Third Team pick. And earning All-America Honorable Mention were Verica Bakoc, Mireia Guiral and Grace Tehaney. •