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No. 1 USC Women’s Water Polo Hits The Desert For Action At No. 9 Arizona State

Apr 6, 2022

#3 USC (15-2, 4-0) at #9 Arizona St. (13-10, 1-3)
Saturday, April 9 | 1 p.m.  | Mona Plummer Aquatic Center (Tempe, Ariz.)
Series Record: USC leads 37-2 (W16)
Last Meeting: USC 10, ASU 4 (May 15, 2021)

Having taken over as the No. 1 team in the nation, USC turns to another MPSF road trip this  weekend. The top-ranked Trojans (15-2, 4-0 MPSF) will visit No. 9 Arizona State (13-10, 1-3) for a 1 p.m. conference clash on Saturday (April 9) in Tempe.

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 to No. 2. USC had been at No. 3 since March 9 until its takeover of the top this week, with the Trojans back at No. 1 in the land in the latest national rankings (released April 6).
The No. 9 Sun Devils are 13-10 overall and 1-3 in MPSF play after an 11-9 overtime  loss to UCLA last week. Vanda Baksa leads Arizona State in scoring with 68 goals. Goalie Itzahiana Baca is averaging 6.3 saves and 10.4 goals-against per game in 19 appearances. In a series dating back to 2003, USC is 37-2 all-time against ASU with wins in the past 16 meetings. The teams faced four times last year, with the latest matchup coming in the 2021 NCAA Semifinals, where USC beat ASU 10-4.

USC had a huge winning road trip last weekend, taking down No. 1 Stanford 10-8 and then beating San José State 18-5 for two MPSF victories. The Trojans made a power move in the second period to push past top-ranked host Stanford en route to a key 10-8 win over the Cardinal. It was the first trip back to Stanford's pool for three Trojans — Alejandra Aznar, Paige Hauschild and Tilly Kearns — since 2019 when Stanford edged the Trojans out for the national title that year. All three took time off for their National Team training after, and all three made the most of their return to Palo Alto today. Hauschild ripped in two big first-half goals while Aznar delivered a pair in the second half, including a key strike in the final minute to give USC a two-goal advantage. Kearns, meanwhile, drew four exclusions and had two field blocks.  Against the Spartans, USC hit the throttle for a 13-goal scoring surge that put its hosts out of reach in a final 18-5 Trojan victory at West Valley College Aquatics Center. Tilly Kearns set a new career high with six goals, and Bayley Weber added four for the Trojan cause to help make it a winning weekend for USC. The game with the Spartans was a sticky one early, as San José State equalized early and was within one midway through the second period. With the Spartans knocking, USC turned a 5-4 margin into an 18-4 lead by  the fourth quarter as the Trojans scored 13 consecutive goals while shutting out San José State in the entire third period. Goalie Erin Tharp went the distance in the cage for the Trojans, making six saves including a stop against a first-period SJSU 5-meter penalty shot.

Senior Mireia Guiral caused trouble for opponents on both ends of the pool in the Trojans' recent victorious road trip, and she was honored as the MPSF Player of the Week for the third time in her career and the first time this season. Guiral scored four goals on six shots, amassed six steals and had two field blocks and an assist in USC's winning MPSF weekend, as the Trojans beat Stanford 10-8 and San José State 18-5. Against the host Cardinal, Guiral's first of two goals gave USC a 3-2 lead in the second period, and the Trojans never trailed the rest of the way. Her second goal lifted USC to an 8-5 advantage in the third. She also had three steals and a field block in the victory over Stanford. The next day, Guiral scored twice in the second half as USC broke away from the Spartans. She also had three more steals along with an assist and another field block to help USC to victory over the Spartans. Guiral became the third Trojan to be named an MPSF Player of the Week this season, following two picks for Tilly Kearns and one for Bayley Weber in 2022. Guiral's past MPSF Player of the Week selections came during the 2020 and 2021 seasons. Guiral is USC's fifth leading scorer this year with 23 goals to date. That gives the senior 91 career goals as she hunts down a chance to break the 100-goal barrier. 

BY THE NUMBERS            
With two regular-season games to go, USC has two Trojans solidly in the 40-goal zome on the offensive end. Tilly Kearns leads the way with 49 goals, followed closely by Bayley Weber's 45 blasts. Grace Tehaney and Paige Hauschild, meanwhile, are in 30-goal terrain with 35 and 34 goals, respectively. Weber and Tehaney have each scored in 16 of USC's 17 games to date. Defensively, Carolyne Stern and Erin Tharp have shared time in the cage, averaging a combined 6.9 saves per game to anchor a Trojan defense giving up just 6.5 goals per game. USC has outscored opponents 272-111 so far, while holding teams scoreless in 11 different periods to date.

ON THE RISE            
With her work at the Triton Invite, Grace Tehaney became the latest Trojan to work her way into the 100-goal club at USC, joining the earlier-inducted Bayley Weber. Tehaney is now at 118 career goals, while Weber currently holds 135 career goals as a Trojan — ranking her at No. 19 all-time. Meanwhile, Paige Hauschild is also on the climb, boasting 151 career goals to rank No. 14 all-time in the Trojan history books to date.  Knocking on the door of the 100-goal club, meanwhile, is senior Mireia Guiral, who currently clocks in  at 91 career goals.

Tilly Kearns secured her second selection as the MPSF Player of the Week on  March 22 after a powerful performance in Hawai'i. In a night game in Honolulu, Kearns scored a game-high four goals on five shots taken in USC's 12-9 road win at No. 5 Hawai'i. She scored twice in the first period to help the Trojans lead it 5-3 early, and her third also got USC a two-goal advantage, up 9-7 in the third. Kearns' fourth goal of the night was the final stroke in USC's 12-9 victory. Kearns leads the Trojans in scoring so far this season with 49 goals.

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.

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 40 goals to date. She also boasts multiple-goal outings in 15 games this year, and she was the first Trojan to be named MPSF Player of the Week this season.

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 is 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. •