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No. 3 USC Women’s Water Polo Hits Hawai’i To Take On Rainbow Wahine

Mar 16, 2022

#3 USC (12-2) at #5 Hawai'i (10-4)
Friday, March 18 | 9 p.m. PT
Duke Kahanamoku Aquatic Complex
Series Record: USC leads 48-3 (W26)
Last Meeting: USC 11, UH 8 (Feb. 27, 2022)

No. 3 USC has hunkered down in Honolulu for a Spring Break training trip that will also feature a game at Hawai'i. The Trojans (12-2) take on the Rainbow Wahine (10-4) at 9 p.m. PT on Friday (March 18) at Duke Kahanamoku Aquatic Complex.

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 week before going up to No. 2. In the latest national rankings (released March 9), the Trojans now rank No. 3 in the nation.
The No. 5 Rainbow Wahine are 10-4 overall after beating UC Davis 13-5 and Pacific 9-4 last week. Lara Luka and Elyse Lemay-Lavoie leads Hawai'i in scoring with 28 goals each. Goalies Bridget Layburn and Molly DiLalla have split time in the cage, averaging a combined 6.1 saves and 8.3 goals-against per game. In a series dating back to 1997, USC is 48-3 all-time against Hawai'i with wins in the past 26 meetings. Most recently, the Trojans beat the Rainbow Wahine 11-8 in the third-place game of the 2022 Barbara Kalbus Invitational.
USC unleashed an all-out attack balanced by stingy defense to ring up a 16-3 win over No. 15 Indiana in an MPSF meeting at Uytengsu Aquatics Center last weekend. Bayley Weber and Grace Tehaney tallied four goals apiece on the offensive end, each outscoring the Hoosiers' team total, while USC goalies Carolyne Stern and Erin Tharp combined for 13 saves. Tharp put an exclamation point on the game by turning away three consecutive 5-meter penalty shots in the fourth period. Stern opened the game with a save against an Indiana power play, and then USC hammered home four straight scores. Two of those came courtesy of Weber, and then USC would tally two more after Indiana's first  goal of the day to lead it 6-1 after eight minutes of action. The pace slowed a bit in the second frame, although Weber and Tehaney would keep firing. Both had hat tricks in place by halftime as USC was up 9-2 at the break. The Trojans would silence the Hoosiers in the third, nabbing steals on the defensive end and then rattling in scores the other way. Paige Hauschild hit her third of the day with a finish off a pop-out from Tilly Kearns, who would also draw three 5-meter penalty shots for the Trojans on the day. Freshman Honnie Vandeweghe-O'Shea slotted back-to-back goals next, and then Weber had the final word of the third off a 5-meter penalty drawn by Kearns to lift USC ahead 13-2 entering the fourth. That's where Tharp took over the cage from Stern, backing up a still-stubborn Trojan defense with six saves — three of which came  against 5-meter penalty shots in an feat rarely, if ever, seen in the water polo world. Only one Hoosier backhand would get through, while USC piled on three more scores to round out the 16-3 final victory.

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            
Fourteen games into the year, USC has four Trojans already in the 30-goal zome on the offensive end. Tilly Kearns leads the way with 39 goals, followed closely by Bayley Weber's 37 blasts. Paige Hauschild and Grace Tehaney, meanwhile, are both in the  zone now with 30 apiece. Kearns, Weber and Tehaney have each scored in 13 of USC's 14 games to date. Defensively, Carolyne Stern and Erin Tharp have shared time in the cage, averaging a combined 7.2 saves per game to anchor a Trojan defense giving up just 6.4 goals per game. USC has outscored opponents 232-89 so far, while holding teams scoreless in 10 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 earlier-inducted Bayley Weber. Tehaney is now at 113 career goals, while Weber currently holds 127 career goals as a Trojan. Meanwhile, Paige Hauschild is also on the climb, boasting 147 career goals to rank No. 14 all-time 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. •