Trojan Women Dominate Stanford, Capture Barbara Kalbus Water Polo Invitational

grace tehaney
Last weekend USC's Grace Tehaney helped lead the Trojans to a second-straight Kalbus Invitational title. Photo Courtesy: John McGillen/USC Athletics

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IRVINE, CA. The 2020 USC women’s water polo team made a grand statement this weekend, sweeping through the Barbara Kalbus Invitational at UC Irvine with four straight victories, including a 10-5 thrashing of Mountain Pacific Sports Federation (MPSF) rival and top seed the Stanford Cardinal in Sunday’s championship game. The Trojans, who entered the event as the third seed, will likely emerge this week as the top ranked team in the nation.

[With Win at 2020 Kalbus Invitational, USC Upsets CWPA Top-25 Women’s Water Polo Rankings]

The tournament annually features the best teams in the country and is a test of endurance and depth, with four matches for each team in a roughly 48-hour period.  USC Head Coach Marko Pintaric’s team passed the test with flying colors, combining a potent offense which produced 49 goals over the weekend with a stingy defense that averaged 6.75 goals against per game.  Pintaric was quick to credit his defense and its impact on the outcome.

“Props to the girls on executing the defensive plan and it carried on to the offense,” he said.

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USC’s Holly Parker, Photo Courtesy: John McGillen/USC Athletics

The Trojans reached the championship game by routing LMU 20-8 and beating host UC Irvine (for the second time in a week) by 10-7.  That set up a Saturday afternoon semifinal match-up with rival UCLA.  The two MPSF teams had played in the championship game of the Triton Invitational two weeks ago with the Bruins winning 7-5.  This day was different as the Trojans piled up nine goals in the first three quarters to lead 9-3 going to the fourth. Grace Tehaney shot a perfect three for three to contribute to a lead the Bruins could not equal despite a four-goal rally in the final period—which made the final score 9-7.

Stanford, which entered the tournament with nine consecutive victories to start the season, showed their mettle throughout the first three games. They opened Friday against Golden Coast Conference (GCC) member San Diego State and trailed 5-2 in the second quarter before gaining a 7-6 halftime lead, then sprinted to a 12-8 victory. In the bracket final Saturday morning, the UC Santa Barbara Gauchos, who knocked off Big West newcomer UC San Diego 9-8 in the opener, took a 7-6 lead into the fourth quarter before a five goal run by Stanford, including three by Sarah Klass, decided things for the Cardinal 11-8.

On Saturday, Stanford was matched with Hawaii, which beat Davis (9-6) and Arizona State (11-5) to reach the semifinal. The game went back and forth with Stanford leading 10-8 after three quarters.  Hawaii claimed the first goal of the fourth to cut the margin to 10-9, before Klass and Madison Stamen each scored their third goals of the game to give the Cardinal a hard earned 12-9 victory and a berth in the championship game.

The final game was essentially decided in the first quarter. The Cardinal—shut out in the first eight minutes—had 10 possessions, drew two exclusions and a penalty, and committed three turnovers.  USC, on the other hand, sandwiched two power-play goals around a pair of natural goals from center and the flat to close out the first period leading 4-0.  On their second possession of the second quarter, the Trojans added a power-play goal by  Tehaney to take a 5-0 lead. The sophomore from Orinda, California was the fifth different goal scorer for her team.

It wasn’t until the 4:02 mark of the second quarter that Hannah Shabb slipped a backhand past Holly Parker to get the Cardinal on the scoreboard.  Sophie Wallace converted a power play from the three post for Stanford to cut the Trojan lead to 5-2.  From there the Trojans went on another five goal run to put the game away.

USC had great balance with eight different goal scorers and shot an impressive 10 for 23 for the game. Tehaney and Bayley Weber each had a pair of goals and Denise Mammolito added a goal and three assists. Keeper Parker made seven saves including one on a Stanford penalty shot.

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UCLA’s Adam Wright. Photo Courtesy: Minette Rubin

Afterwards, Pintaric lauded his junior goalie. “I think Holly did a good job preparing for the game and calling the defense,” he said.  It was the byproduct of what Pintaric explained were: “Shots taken by players that she wanted. That’s always the key in preparing for the goalie to be successful.”

Earlier in the day, UCLA and Hawaii met to play for third place with the Bruins prevailing 10-5.  After a first quarter which saw Hawaii forge a 3-2 advantage, the Rainbow Wahine endured 17 consecutive scoreless possessions spanning over 21 minutes— including two six on five chances, three saves, and six turnovers.

At the same time, the Bruins notched five goals to go from trailing to leading 7-3 with just over five minutes to play in the game. UCLA Head Coach Adam Wright talked about the pressing defense and how it came to effect the outcome.

“The defense is one of the staples that we want in our program — last night (against USC) we didn’t put ourselves in position to be successful…just giving up too many free goals” he said.  According to Wright, his roster—which includes 16 players with less than two years of experience—remains a work in progress. “When we can get both both the goalie and the defense up to where I believe it can be, then things become real tough for opponents,” he said. “I give Georgia [Phillips, UCLA goalie] a lot of credit today”

Freshman Hannah Palmer had a stellar line for UCLA, recording two goals, four assists, and two steals.  The Bruins shot 10 for 24 while  Phillips made six saves and together with her teammates held a high-scoring Hawaii team to five goals.

Both winning coaches spoke of the parity in college water polo this season and how things shape up for MPSF conference play, which begins in earnest in the coming month. Pintaric, in his first season leading the Trojan women, is particularly energized by the challenge.

I really like the way the league is right now it’s very competitive. he said. “On any given day everybody can pretty much beat anybody — UCLA beat us fair and square last weekend and earlier they lost to Santa Barbara.” In his first year as USC head coach after 17 years in Troy as a player, and then a top assistant to Jovan Vavic, Pintaric has a good outloook on what’s ahead: MPSF conference play. ” I’m proud of (the progress) from the first tournament to this point. They keep showing constant progress and that’s what every coach likes to see with their team so I hope they will keep the momentum going.”

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Hannah Palmer – UCLA Photo Courtesy: Minette Rubin

He also understands that with parity comes opportunity. “It’s going to be very interesting to the end because it’s anybody’s game. It’s going to take a lot of coaching and a lot of game preparation so you can take advantage of it.” he added. Wright—his crosstown rival and counterpart—looks at it similarly.

“It’s going to be a wild conference season—not only within our conference but in a lot of conferences” Wright said. And he knows he has control over only one team.

“The biggest thing we can do is worry about ourselves how we far we can grow as a young team. If we can do that I honestly believe we’ll have a chance to be successful” he said.

Tourney Notes:

Michigan and UC Santa Barbara crashed the tournament seeding by winning their opening games in upsets on Friday.  Michigan upset California 11-10 in overtime and UC Santa Barbara avenged an earlier loss to UC San Diego and held off the Tritons 9-8 to enable both teams to advance to the winners bracket. Both games were played Friday afternoon at Corona Del Mar High School.

The Wolverines and the Gauchos met Sunday morning for seventh place with Michigan edging Santa Barbara 5-4. The Bears and the Tritons both advanced to the ninth place game with California getting the win 10-6 to reverse an earlier decision for the Tritons.

Tournament host UC Irvine went 3-1 on the weekend, with their only loss to eventual champ USC 10-7.  The Anteaters beat LBSU, Michigan, and Arizona State to round out a strong showing and a fifth place finish.

GCC teams LMU and San Diego State each collected two wins, the Lions beating Long Beach State and San Jose State for 11th place and the Aztecs bounced back from a one goal loss to UC San Diego Saturday morning to defeat UC Davis and Long Beach State by scoring two goals in the final minute for a 10-9 margin in the 13th place game.

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