No. 3 USC Women’s Water Polo Clashes With No. 2 Cal Saturday At Uytengsu
#3 USC (7-1) vs. #2 California (11-0)
Saturday, Feb. 19 | 1 p.m.
Uytengsu Aquatics Center
Series Record: USC leads 45-18 (W22)
Last Meeting: USC 12, CAL 9 (March 21, 2021)
TV: Pac-12 Networks (Announcer: Greg Mescall)
STREAM | STATS
No. 3 USC is home again, setting up for its first MPSF matchup of the year. The Trojans (7-1) will host No. 2 California (11-0) at 1 p.m. on Saturday (Feb. 19) at Uytengsu Aquatics Center.
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. USC remained on top for the first three weeks of competition. In the latest national rankings (released Feb. 16), the Trojans now rank No. 3 in the nation.
The No. 2 Golden Bears are 11-0 overall after collecting three wins at the Stanford Invitational, beating UC Davis 9-4, Stanford 10-9 in overtime and ASU 11-6. Emma Wright leads Cal in scoring with 24 goals, and goalie Isabel Williams is averaging 9.9 saves and 6.2 goals-against per game. In a series dating back to 1995, USC is 45-18 all-time against Cal with wins in the last 22 meetings. Last year, the Trojans beat the Bears 17-11 and 12-9 in MPSF contests in Berkeley.
USC took second place at the Triton Invitational last weekend, beating UC Santa Barbara 10-4 and Long Beach State 17-6 in group play before a 9-7 semifinal win over Hawai'i. USC faced UCLA in the title match, falling 11-10 on a late power play goal by the Bruins. In the clash with Gauchos, USC took an early 2-0 lead as Tilly Kearns and Honnie Vandeweghe-O'Shea tallied their first goals on the way to eventual hat tricks for both in the game. After UC Santa Barbara got one to go, Sophia Lucas finished off a rebound, and Grace Tehaney punched in a score to make it a 4-1 USC lead. Vandeweghe-O'Shea and Kearns kept their pace going with goals around a 5-meter penalty stop from USC goalie Carolyne Stern, and then Bayley Weber went back-to-back to help lift USC to an 8-2 halftime advantage. Scoring slowed in the second half as Erin Tharp took over the cage for the Trojan defense. Kearns and Vandeweghe-O'Shea had their hat tricks in place before the Gauchos got a 5-meter penalty to go, and USC was up 10-3 entering the fourth. There, UCSB tallied one, and the Trojans came up empty, although the game was very much in control as USC emerged with the 10-4 win. In the second game of the day, Kearns and Weber both kept clicking, combining for seven of USC's 17 goals as Kearns tallied three more and Weber racked up four — with all those goals coming in the first three frames. USC peeled out to an 8-3 lead in the first eight minutes of action with Weber setting the tone with back-to-back scores to open things up. Kearns dumped in two of her own around one from Mireia Guiral later in the frame to help lift USC to a hefty lead. In the second it was Grace Tehaney's turn to knock in a pair of goals while the USC offense kept clicking en route to a 14-5 halftime lead. Again, things slowed a bit in the next stretch, with Guiral, Weber and Kearns accounting for the Trojan tallies to build out a 17-6 lead that would hold through a scoreless fourth period to lock up USC's ticket to the semifinals. In the semifinal bout against the Rainbow Wahine, USC took the early upper hand on back-to-back goals from Tehaney. Tehaney's deft left hand would stay hot throughout, as she laced in five goals for the Trojan cause to tie her career high. Hawai'i would tie things up on a 5-meter penalty shot early in the third period, but Weber and Tehaney punched up goals next for USC to lift the Trojans ahead 7-5 entering the fourth. That pairing would help USC lead it 9-6, and only one more Wahine goal would get through as the Trojan emerged victorious 9-7. Goalie Stern had the final word in that one, knocking down her 10th save of the game to cap off the semifinal win and set a new career high for herself with that 10-save effort. As the Trojans turned to face the Bruins in the title match it was UCLA that had the early advantage, with USC working to tie it up at 1-1 and 2-2 on goals from Tehaney and Vandeweghe-O'Shea. UCLA would work back ahead with back-to-back goals before Tehaney struck again, and USC was down 4-3 after eight minutes of action. The Trojans made a power move in the second when Kearns leveled it to spark a three-goal run that saw Weber bury two goals before UCLA got on the board to make it 6-5 Trojans by halftime. In the third, however, UCLA benefited from a couple USC exclusions to work back on top 7-6. Hauschild equalized with a sweet shot, but the Bruins got another one to go and it was 8-7 UCLA entering the fourth. Down by two early in the fourth, USC battled back again with back-to-back goals from Kearns. UCLA would be awarded a 5-meter penalty shoot soon after, though, converting to go back ahead with 1:47 to go. Kearns earned one at the other end for the Trojans, and Weber buried it to snarl things up once more at 10-10 with 1:23 remaining. The Bruins would get another power play advantage in the final minute, finishing it off to edge ahead 11-10 with 23 ticks to go, and UCLA would hang on to win it with that scoreline.
USC's top scorer at the Triton Invitational, Bayley Weber extended her run of multi-goal games to eight straight and has deservedly earned her first career selection as the MPSF Player of the Week on Feb. 15. Weber tallied 11 goals for the Trojans in their run to the Triton Invite final. She scored three goals in the title match, an 11-10 loss to UCLA, after providing two in USC's 9-7 win over Hawai'i in the semifinals that morning. Weber also scored two to help beat UCSB 17-6 and then four goals to beat Long Beach State 17-6 in group play on Saturday. Weber is currently USC's second leading scorer with 23 goals to date. She is the only player to have multiple-goal outing in every game this year, and she is the first Trojan to be named MPSF Player of the Week this season.
BY THE NUMBERS
Eight games into the new year, USC has six Trojans already in double digits on the offensive end. Tilly Kearns leads the way with 26 goals, followed closely by Bayley Weber's 23 blasts. Next in line to close in on the 20-goal zone are Grace Tehaney with 17 and Paige Hauschild with 15 goals to date. Kearns, Weber and Tehaney have each scored in all eight games. 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 6.0 goals per game. USC has outscored opponents 145-48 so far, while holding teams scoreless in six different periods to date.
ON THE RISE
Last weekend, Grace Tehaney was the latest Trojan to work her way into the 100-goal club at USC, joining the recently inducted Bayley Weber. Tehaney is now at an even 100, while Weber currently holds 113 career goals as a Trojan. Meanwhile, Paige Hauschild is also on the climb, having cracked the top-20 all-time at USC with her 132 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.
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.
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. •