Women’s water polo takes national title

first_imgYou’d be hard-pressed to fault graduating seniors and members of the USC women’s water polo team Tumua Anae, Kami Craig, Forel Davies, Alexandra Kiss and Kally Lucas for feeling a little frustrated.Champions – The USC women’s water polo team took home the 2010 NCAA Championship after beating Stanford 10-9 in the final. The title comes after two consecutive championship round losses in 2008 and 2009. – Photo courtesy of USC Sports Info After all, the players came to USC with the hope of capturing a national championship, but for one reason or another, postseason success had seemingly eluded them. And much to their chagrin, it was primarily crosstown rival UCLA that contributed to their downfall.In 2007, the Bruins handed the No. 3 Women of Troy a heartbreaking 7-6 semifinal loss that kept them out of the championship game. A year later in 2008, it was a similar script, as UCLA once again defeated the No. 2 Women of Troy when it mattered most — in the NCAA championship game.But despite the exasperating finishes of 2007 and 2008, 2009 looked rather promising. Experienced two-meter Craig was back after taking the previous season off to train for the Olympics with the U.S. national team, and the rest of the group had gained more experience as well. They entered the postseason on a 14-game winning streak after just one loss during the regular season, and were even given the No. 1 seed by the NCAA selection committee.However, the stretch run proved to be the latest version of Bill Murray’s Groundhog Day, as the Women of Troy suffered another agonizing championship defeat at the hands of the Bruins, losing 5-4.In three years, despite three consecutive top-three finishes, the slipper didn’t seem to fit; the senior quintet had no postseason hardware to show for all their hard work and various accomplishments.But that all changed on May 16.Faced with the opportunity to end their collegiate careers on a positive note against conference rival Stanford in the NCAA championship game, the seniors guided the Women of Troy to a heart-thumping 10-9 victory, earning them that long-awaited national title.“I can’t believe I’m even holding this trophy in my hands,” said Craig, who was named tournament MVP immediately after the win. “A lot of effort went into it this. It was about time.”In the early moments of the contest, however, it didn’t appear as if it would take much effort for Craig and co. to finally get over the hump.Despite an early Kelly Eaton goal that gave the Cardinal a 1-0 lead, USC would take advantage of several Stanford miscues. On its first 6-on-5 opportunity, junior two-meter Kristen Dronberger capitalized on the advantage, powering a shot through the net to knot the score at one apiece. Just moments later, teammate Patricia Jancso, a freshman two-meter, broke the tie and gave USC a 2-1 lead with a goal of her own. Before Stanford could seemingly make any adjustment, the Women of Troy’s lead ballooned to a three-goal margin in large part to a relentless offensive attack.“We knew we were going to stay calm, composed and take it just one pass at a time, one play at a time, one quarter at a time,” Craig said. “Our game would then come together.”With the team holding a 6-3 halftime lead, Craig’s proclamation appeared remarkably accurate, but as in past years, the journey to the top wouldn’t be particularly smooth.As the third quarter began, USC slowly watched Stanford catch fire as driver Kim Krueger got a lob shot past goalie Tumua Anae just 48 seconds in, lowering the deficit to two. A minute later, Stanford cut the USC advantage to just one following a goal from driver Kelly Eaton.With their lead suddenly in flux, the Women of Troy elevated their play on both ends of the pool. The defense, forced to stop a potent Stanford offense threatening to thwart the team’s title hopes, shut down the Cardinal when it mattered most, creating multiple Stanford turnovers. On the offensive end, USC took advantage of those miscues, scoring four consecutive goals to build a nearly insurmountable 10-6 lead midway through the fourth quarter.“We needed to stay and play a smart game,” Anae said. “We still had a few minutes left so our focus was on defense and patience on offense. You don’t want to back down, but you don’t want to start playing bad water polo.”But once again, Stanford dug its heels into USC’s four-goal lead. Following two quick goals, the Cardinal capitalized on a 6-on-5 opportunity, as two-meter Annika Dries netted her first score of the game to cut the deficit to just one with 45 seconds remaining.“I couldn’t even watch,” Craig said. “At one point, I was just holding hands with my teammates on the bench, just waiting for the buzzer to go off. That last possession was the longest of my life.”Yet for once, the stars aligned for Craig and her fellow seniors, as they held onto their narrow lead and avoided what could have been another postseason disaster.“It was honestly one of the best feelings in the world,” said driver Kally Lucas, one of the team’s five seniors, after the win. “The best part about it is that I am doing it with my best friends. This is my last water polo game ever and to go out with a win is so exciting for me.”The win also gave coach Jovan Vavic, who coaches the men’s team in the fall, his third national championship on the women’s circuit and eighth overall. But as usual, he was quick to deflect any praise.“This was a 100 percent team effort,” Vavic said. “We had so many players play well. Our seniors played a great game. They played with lots of fire, lots of heart. I am so happy to see them end their careers with a win.”last_img read more