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No. 2 USC Women’s Water Polo Eyes Another Barbara Kalbus Invite Crown

Feb 23, 2022

No. 2 USC takes aim at another shot at a tournament title as the Trojans set up for the Barbara Kalbus Invitational  this week. USC won it all  when the  event was last held in 2020 — the second straight title at the tourney for the Trojans. This year, USC opens up group play on Friday (Feb. 25) with a 10:45 a.m. game against Pomona-Pitzer. On Saturday (Feb. 26), the Trojans will face either No. 9 Arizona State or No. 13 Long Beach State at 9:15 a.m. Semifinals will take place Saturday afternoon, with the championship bout set for 1 p.m. on Sunday (Feb. 27), preceded by an 11:45 a.m. third-place game.

USC started 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 and was at No. 3 for one wek. In the latest national rankings (released Feb. 23), the Trojans now rank No. 2 in the nation.
BKI NOTES        
This year's edition of the Barbara Kalbus Invitational features 15 teams, including five MPSF teams in Arizona State, Indiana, Stanford, USC and UCLA. The teams will open with bracket play on Friday and on Saturday morning. Saturday afternoon will feature semifinal games, with placement games taking place on Sunday. When the event was last held in 2020, the Trojans opened up with a 20-8 win over UC Santa Barbara before wrapping group play with a 10-7 win over host UC Irvine. In the semifinals, USC avenged an earlier loss to UCLA with a 9-7 win over the  Bruins to move into the title match. Up against Stanford in the final, USC was dominant, beating the Cardinal 10-5 to claim the BKI championship for the second straight year. 
USC handed No. 2 California its first loss of the year with a well-balanced effort by the Trojans, who tallied the first three goals of the second and third quarters while shutting out the Golden Bears in the third on the way to a 13-7 victory today at Uytengsu Aquatics Center. It was the MPSF opener for both teams, and USC never trailed in this one behind hat tricks from three different Trojans. The Trojans fended off the Bears in the first frame, as Cal pulled even three times before Grace Tehaney's second goal of the game got USC a late 4-3 advantage. Carolyne Stern knocked down a Cal shot to close the first, and then USC got in a serious groove for the next stretch. The Trojans rattled off three straight goals to start off the second period, with a sneaky shot from Paige Hauschild marking her second of the day. Julia Janov was the provider of two picture-perfect passes into the post, where Mireia Guiral and then Bayley Weber went big for back-to-back blasts that carried USC ahead 7-3. Cal would get two goals to go around the first of the day from Tilly Kearns, and USC was up 8-5 at halftime. USC was all business on both ends of the pool in those next eight minutes, silencing the Bears throughout the frame while punching up four goals as Hauschild, Kearns and Tehaney each reached hat tricks with their offensive efforts in that third period. Weber struck from distance to open up the fourth, ballooning the Trojan advantage to a daunting 13-5. Cal knocked in two in the next minute, but that would be as far as the Trojan defense would allow the Bears to go as USC wrapped up the 13-7 decision in home waters. 

In USC's first MPSF clash against undefeated Cal, Tilly Kearns scored three goals, drew four exclusions and had two steals in a 13-7 Trojan win over the Golden Bears. For her powerful performance in USC's key conference win, Kearns earned her first selection as MPSF Player of the Week on Feb. 22. Kearns' first goal helped build an 8-5 halftime lead for USC, and she'd score two more in the third as USC shut out Cal in that frame to lead it 12-5. Kearns has scored in every game for the Trojans and is their top scorer with 29 goals to date.

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 25 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            
Nine games into the new year, USC has six Trojans already in double digits on the offensive end. Tilly Kearns leads the way with 29 goals, followed closely by Bayley Weber's 25 blasts. A fresh face in 20-goal zone is Grace Tehaney, while Paige Hauschild is on the  cusp with 18 goals to date. Kearns, Weber and Tehaney have each scored in all nine games. Defensively, Carolyne Stern and Erin Tharp have shared time in the cage, averaging a combined 6.6 saves per game to anchor a Trojan defense giving up just 6.1 goals per game. USC has outscored opponents 158-55 so far, while holding teams scoreless in seven different periods to date.

ON THE RISE            
With her work at the Triton Invite, 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 103 career goals, while Weber currently holds 115 career goals as a Trojan. Meanwhile, Paige Hauschild is also on the climb, having cracked the top-20 all-time at USC with her 135 career goals to rank No. 18 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. •