STANFORD, Calif., May 9. FOR reasons lost to the vagaries of history, former USC All-America football player Morley Drury has always been known as the "Noblest Trojan of them all."
USC freshman water polo player Brittany Hayes may soon secure that appellation for herself.
The Orange County native helped lead Santa Ana Foothill High to four consecutive CIF Southern Section Division 1 championships before joining the Women of Troy last fall, and was player of the year the last two seasons. At USC, she picked up right where she left off as a prepster without missing a beat, scoring 54 goals and ranking second nationally behind teammate Moriah Van Norman's 55.
Yesterday, in the Trojans' 12-4 victory over Hartwick in one NCAA Final Four semi match here at Stanford's Avery Aquatic Center, Hayes scored a pair of goals. In today's final against upstart and cross-town foe Loyola-Marymount, the rookie — abjuring the adage that freshmen should be "seen and not heard" — scored a team-high three goals and dished out four assists as Coach Jovan Vavic's USC squad triumphed, 10-8, to win its first NCAA polo championship in its first Final Four appearance.
The Trojans thus write a perfect ending to a perfect season, all things considered, finishing 29-0 overall. From somewhere high above, on that gridiron in the sky, Drury is gazing down and smiling. USC and Loyola had already played once this season in a non-conference match at the Trojans' McDonald's Olympic Swim Stadium pool, with the hosts winning, 8-4.
In the third-place match, Stanford (20-5) blasted Hartwick (33-9), 12-2.
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LMU, playing in its first NCAA championship in any sport in the university's 90-year history, winds up 25-6. As noted above, Hayes was named the tournament's most outstanding player for her stellar play. Her pool performance was reminiscent of nothing so much as that of Stanford's Tony Azevedo, a Sydney Olympian and NCAA Player of the Year the last three seasons for the Cardinal, whose tremendous offensive and defensive skills are unmatched.
USC has won four national collegiate championships in 2003-'04: both polo titles, women's volleyball (second-straight year) and a share of the national football title with a win over Michigan in the Rose Bowl. It's the best showing for the Trojans since 1976-'77, when Troy won five championships, including its last men's swimming title. Vavic is only the second coach (UCLA's Adam Krikorian is the other) to win both a men's and women's title in the same season; and USC now equals Stanford's record of
having won both women's and men's polo and swimming championships.
Hayes has quite a win streak going for herself. Not only has she won five-consecutive championships in five years, she's also riding a 59-match win streak: 30-0 last season at Foothill, 29-0 at USC.
The Women of Troy also are the first team in the brief four-year history of the NCAA Championship to go undefeated for an entire season. "I was
always confident in my team," Hayes said. "When I came here I told myself I wanted to make an impact, not just be a 'player'." She noted that winning the championship in her freshman year is "really awesome; winning [the outstanding player award] is nice too. But the ring is what we all wanted most, the championship. We had a fantastic year and I'm really proud of my teammates."
The No. 1 seeded Women of Troy, in addition to their victory today, also won the National Collegiate Championship in 1999 (women's water polo was not an NCAA-sponsored championship until 2001).
No. 3 seed LMU was making its fourth-consecutive NCAA Final Four appearance, but had never before advanced out of the semis. However, the Lions' roar was too much for No. 2-seed Stanford Saturday as LMU scored its first-ever victory over the Cardinal with its 5-4 triumph.
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"This is big time for us after we had three difficult years," said Vavic.
"Once you win a national title, it's like getting a huge monkey off your back. I did not really look at the (29-0) record because for us, it was more important to win the title."
Comparing this win to winning the men's national title, Vavic analyzed:
"It feels different because we were expected to win [today], so it's more of a relief. So much expectation went into this season. I'm probably going to enjoy it more tomorrow."
"We have three or four girls who will be serious candidates for the 2008 Olympic team. Our best players are really freshman and sophomores. I expected the game today to be tough. They had one more game to win a national championship. The LMU coaches did a great job preparing their team for a championship. They played much better in this game [than when USC and LMU met earlier this season]. Some of our girls were nervous. This was our first trip to the NCAA tournament; it was their fourth."
USC scored first when sophomore two-meter ace Van Norman (San Diego/
University HS) drew an ejection on LMU's Lindsey O'Farriell. The Women of Troy converted on Lauren Wenger's (Long Beach/Wilson HS) touch shot in front off an assist from Hayes on the six-on-five. Hayes added a lob shot at 3:03 to make it a 2-0 lead in the first.
Both teams traded goals late in the first with Cara Colton scoring on a lob shot for the Lions, countered by USC Erin Wilson's (Huntington Beach/Marina HS) skip shot with 12 seconds remaining.
Colton led the Lions with a team-high four goals.
In the second, senior Liz Simms (Balmain, Sydney, Australia) scored off Hayes' third assist of the match, but the Lions responded 17 seconds later on Devon Wright's goal for a 4-2 USC advantage.
"I thought Simms did a good job of controlling the offense and forcing us to make adjustments," said LMU head coach John Loughran.
Van Norman, the 2004 Mountain Pacific Sports Federation Player of the Year, made a key block on an LMU shot at 3:08 of the second period. USC goalie Kelly Graff (Irvine/Irvine HS) deflected a lob shot at the five-minute mark of the second period to maintain the two-goal lead.
"Van Norman made the difference today with the number of ejections she was able to draw," said Loughran.
Wright drew a four-meter penalty shot for the Lions after being fouled by USC's Eszter Gyori. Wright converted at 6:26 for her second goal, cutting the USC lead to 4-3.
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At the start of the second half, Van Norman drew another ejection to put USC on the six-on-five power play. Gyori converted at 0:38 for the Women of Troy, but Stacia Peterson answered quickly for the Lions with a goal at 1:27. USC made it a 6-4 match when Hayes drew an ejection and scored on the ensuing power play.
Both teams traded goals again in the third. Van Norman scored her first goal of the match for USC while Colton scored at 4:04 for LMU. Hayes rounded out the scoring again by drawing an ejection and registering the goal off the right side as the Women of Troy held an 8-5 advantage after three periods.
Colton scored on back-to-back goals for the Lions midway through the fourth period as LMU cut it to a one-goal deficit, 8-7. Junior Anna Pardo (Barcelona, Spain) put the Women of Troy back up by two with a goal at 3:52. Graff made two key saves in the latter part of the period, stopping Colton's lob attempt at the five-minute mark and making a point-blank stuff on Teresa Guidi's shot in front with 50 seconds remaining.
"I think Kelly is one of the top goalies in the nation," Hayes noted.. "When you have her and a strong defense in front of her, I had a lot of faith in my teammates today."
Graff held onto the ball as the time wound down. The Women of Troy celebrated by grabbing Vavic and the rest of his staff, pushing them into the pool for the traditional championship celebration. USC will be loaded for the future as the team graduates only two seniors (Graff and Simms) from this year's squad.
"We should be in great shape for the next few years," Vavic concluded.
"The fun part is that we are young and very talented."
Hayes, Van Norman & Co. will attest to that.
2004 NCAA WOMEN'S WATER POLO CHAMPIONSHIP
Sunday, May 9, 2004
Avery Aquatic Center
LMU 1-2-2-3- 8
LMU Goals: Cara Colton 4, Stacia Peterson 3, Devon Wright
USC Goals: Brittany Hayes 3, Erin Wilson, Lauren Wenger, Erika Figge, Moriah Van Norman, Anna Pardo, Eszter Gyori
LMU Saves: Katie Murray 4
USC Saves: Kelly Graff 5
USC 1st 1:43 Lauren Wenger (Brittany Hayes) – 6-on-5 USC 1st 3:03 Brittany Hayes LMU 1st 6:31 Cara Colton USC 1st 6:48 Erin Wilson (Brittany Hayes)
USC 2nd 0:22 Liz Simms (Brittany Hayes) LMU 2nd 0:39 Devon Wright (Teresa Guidi) LMU 2nd 6:26 Stacia Peterson – 4-meter penalty shot
USC 3rd 0:38 Eszter Gyori – 6-on-5 LMU 3rd 1:27 Stacia Peterson – 6-on-5 USC 3rd 2:51 Brittany Hayes – 6-on-5 USC 3rd 3:35 Moriah Van Norman (Brittany Hayes) LMU 3rd 4:04 Cara Colton – 6-on-5 USC 3rd 5:41 Brittany Hayes – 6-on-5
LMU 4th 0:36 Stacia Peterson – 4-meter penalty shot USC 4th 1:25 Erika Figge – 6-on-5 LMU 4th 2:15 Cara Colton – 6-on-5 LMU 4th 2:58 Cara Colton USC 4th 3:52 Anna Pardo