LOS ALAMITOS, Cal., May 2. THEY went in No. 1 in the country and that's exactly that's how they finished.
Coach Jovan Vavic's University of Southern California women's water polo team, ranked No. 1 going into this weekend's Mountain Pacific Sports Federation tournament here, edged 2002 NCAA champ Stanford, 8-7, in a double-overtime thriller to earn an automatic bid to next weekend's NCAA Final Four at Stanford's Avery Aquatic Center.
USC (27-0) will likely play Hartwick College in one semifinal while Loyola Marymount — winners for the fourth-consecutive year of the Western Water Polo title — will play in the other semi against an at-large opponent (likely Stanford), which will be named later this week.
Presuming both the Tgrojans and the Cardinal advance into next Sunday's finals (and only UCLA and Stanford have done this so far in the tourney's three years), it will mark the first time USC has advanced into the NCAA championship game or into the NCAA Final Four itself. A Trojan-Cardinal final would also be a "replay" of last December's NCAA men's Final Four at Avery, where the Trojans prevailed, 9-7, in double overtime.
However, Vavic's men's team last season finished 24-3 while his Women of Troy are undefeated for the first time in Trojan history.
Stanford has played in all three NCAA Final Fours, losing twice to UCLA (2001, '03) and winning over the Bruins at USC's McDonald's Olympic Swim Stadium two seasons ago.
If the Trojans win their first NCAA title Vavic will become the second coach (UCLA's Adam Krikorian was the first) to not only win both a women's and men's title, but do so in the same school year. Krikorian guided UCLA's men to the 2000 NCAA Championship that December, then won the inaugural NCAA Final Four five months later at Avery.
* * * * *
USC frosh Brittany Hayes' goal with 16 seconds left in regulation tied the Stanford game as the Trojans rallied to edge the Cardinal and capture their initial Mountain Pacific Sports Federation championship.
USC out-scored Stanford 2-1 in overtime to come away with its 8-7 title-win. USC's Anna Pardo scored her third goal of the game at 0:02.67 in the first overtime, giving USC a 7-6 lead. In the second overtime, Moriah Van Norman scored at 0:53.86 to give the Women of Troy an 8-6 lead. Stanford had one final goal, at 0:33.03 by Lauren Faust, but USC was able to run out the clock and earn the victory.
Thus USC extends its school-record win streak to 27 games and is 27-0 on the season, while Stanford falls to 20-4. USC's victory today was its fourth over the Cardinal, having beaten Stanford 8-4 at home three weeks ago and also winning 8-5 in the semis of the UCSB Tournament in February, then earning a hard-fought 10-8 victory a couple of weeks later at the Stanford Tournament.
Stanford 2-3-1-0-0-1—7 (20-4)
USC 2-1-2-1-1-1—8 (27-0)
Stanford Scorers: Lauren Faust (3), Kelty Luber (2), Laurel Champion, Christina Hewko
USC Scorers: Anna Pardo (3), Brittany Hayes (2), Erin Wilson, Liz Simms, Moriah Van Norman
Goalie Saves: Meredith McColl, Stanford 5; Kelly Graff, USC 9
* * * * *
In the tournament's third-place match, defending NCAA champ UCLA defeated Cal State Long Beach, 6-4. Bruins Molly Cahill and Kristina Kunkel each scored a pair of goals to lead the Bruins.
CSULB 1-1-0-2 – 4 (21-9)
UCLA 1-2-2-1 – 6 (22-5)