USC Beats Cal in Drama-Filled Semifinal, Advances to 2019 NCAA Women’s Water Polo Final

May 11, 2019; Avery Aquatic Center, Palo Alto, CA, USA; Collegiate Women's Water Polo: NCAA Semi Finals: USC Trojans vs California Golden Bears; USC Trojan Utility Maud Megens takes a 5 meter Photo credit: Catharyn Hayne
USC Maud Megens is Holland's best—and hopes to prove she's America's best too. Photo Courtesy: Catharyn Hayne

Editor’s Note: The 2019 NCAA Women’s Water Polo Tournament is happening this week—and Swimming World has you covered! Keep up with all the action online or look for #SwimmingWorld on Twitter and other social media platforms.

STANFORD, CA. In Saturday’s opening match, the USC Trojans came out with a ferocity that threatened to overwhelm Cal, jumping out to a three-goal lead in the game’s first four minutes. But this Golden Bear team is defined by it’s tenacious head coach, and Coralie Simmons has cultivated a winning culture at Cal by teaching them to respond to any challenge.

2019-ncaa-wwp-logo-apr19“We win games with heart and we lose games with heart, and that’s what happened today,” a subdued Simmons said following her team’s 10-8 overtime loss to the defending national champions. “I said it after the Barbara Kalbus [Invitational]: we’re the toughest team in the nation.”

Sadly for the Cal faithful, on this day, the Trojans proved a bit tougher—and more fortunate. They were beneficiaries of a controversial referee call, one that resulted from an exceptional hustle play by freshman Bayley Weber.

“To go out to an early lead is great—but you know how Cal plays. They have the ability to come back no matter what the circumstances are,” USC Interim Head Coach Casey Moon said after the match.

Gesturing to his goalie, 2018 National Player of the Year Amanda Longan, sitting to his right, Moon said: “We’re going to go as far as Amanda takes us. She’s the best goalie in the country.”

All fight and no flight for Cal

Longan was outstanding in the game’s opening minutes, frustrating Cal on chance after chance as her teammates raced out to an early lead. Maud Megens scored on USC’s first possession, with Paige Hauschild and Tilly Kearns following up with goals to put the defending national champions ahead and their opponents on their heels.

A judicious time-out by Simmons after the third Trojan score halfway through the first frame turned into a goal by Lauren Charter at the three-minute mark. On Cal’s next possession, Brigit Mulder beat Longan with a shot that found the upper corner of the USC cage. As Madison Tagg, the Golden Bear’s answer to the Trojan netminder, began to find her form after the early USC barrage, Mulder scored again a minute and a half into the second period, and just like that USC and Cal were tied three-all.

Cal’s Madison Tagg—with 18 saves—did her best. Photo Courtesy: Catharyn Hayne

The Trojans answered back on a bar-in goal by USC’s Grace Tehaney at the six-minute mark of the second, then Hauschild, positioned in front of the Cal cage, took an inside pass and beat Tagg to make it 5-3 USC. With their goalie a continued focus of the Trojan attack, the slumbering Golden Bear offense again came to life just before intermission, as Emma Wright handcuffed Longan with a nifty skip shot. Tagg then made back-to-back stops just before the half to keep her team with in a goal of the Trojans.

Early in the third period, Sarah Siepker was able to wait out Longan, beating the USC goalie with a lob to knot the game at five-all. As has been the case all season, Cal’s All-American netminder kept them in the game—with a little help from the goal posts. Tagg stuffed Hauschild in front with two minutes to go in the quarter, then got lucky a minute later when Hauschld knifed around her for a shot, which was kicked out by the post.

Referees affirm controversial goal

A sequence involving Tagg and the Trojans at the end of the period ultimately proved to be controversial—and damaging to Cal’s upset chances. With USC a man up, Tagg rebuffed a shot by Weber, who then pressured the ball, forcing the Cal goalie to unwisely toss it out of play with 25 seconds left and providing USC with an extra scoring chance. This turn of events proved both fortuitous and controversial, as Alejandra Aznar took a shot at the buzzer which hit the crossbar then hit Tagg, who then inadvertently swept it in to the cage, crossing the line by the slimmest of margins.

It was a lucky goal created by Weber’s hustle—something that she’s been known for in her freshman campaign in Troy.

“[At USC] it’s all about hustle; we have to win the 50-50 balls,” Weber said after the match. “We have to take advantage of all the opportunities we can, and if we can get another 35 seconds on the shot clock, it’s going to help us.”

This unexpected gift delighted the Trojan fans but infuriated Simmons, who complained to no avail that the ball crossed the goal line after the buzzer. The ruling was that because a defender—in this case Tagg—had touched the ball it was still in play, despite the period-ending buzzer.

May 11, 2019; Avery Aquatic Center, Palo Alto, CA, USA; Collegiate Women's Water Polo: NCAA Semi Finals: USC Trojans vs California Golden Bears; California Head Coach Coralie Simmons gets red carded Photo credit: Catharyn Hayne

Never a good sign; Cal Head Coach Coralie Simmons red carded at match’s end. Photo Courtesy: Catharyn Hayne

The momentum of this play appeared to carry over into the fourth frame, as Aznar, whose experience on the Spanish national team belies her stature as a freshman, struck again on USC’s first possession of the period, beating her defender and then Tagg to give the Trojans a two-goal lead.

At that point, lesser teams might have withered, but this Cal squad is as resilient as it’s leader. With Simmons barking out directions and continuously pacing up and down the pool deck, the Golden Bears again rallied. A power play goal by Claire Sonne—Cal converted four of 11 opportunities with the man-up—at 5:11 brought them within a goal, then two minutes later Kitty Lynn Joustra scored on a lovely backhand in front of the USC cage to tie the game at seven.

Both teams had chances at the end of regulation to end the match, but neither could solve the other’s goalie, leading to overtime.

No stopping these Trojans

Hauschild, who might have had an Olympic-level career as a swimmer, won the sprint to give her team possession in the first overtime, and the Trojans went immediately on attack. Their aggression paid dividends, as a five-meter penalty was awarded by the referee, which Hauschild converted to give USC the lead they would not relinquish. A goal by Weber a minute into the second overtime period proved insurmountable; a late by score Elli Protopapas was simply not enough. When Mireia Guiral scored with eight seconds left it not only sealed the outcome, it marked a remarkable performance by USC’s freshmen class, as five different newcomers scored.

May 11, 2019; Avery Aquatic Center, Palo Alto, CA, USA; Collegiate Women's Water Polo: NCAA Semi Finals: USC Trojans vs California Golden Bears; USC Trojans Mens Water Polo Team are in the stands to cheer on the Women of Troy Photo credit: Catharyn Hayne

USC hope to have more to celebrate later today. Photo Courtesy: Catharyn Hayne

“We have a handful of our girls who have played in pressure games, and they really enjoy playing in big games, when everything is on the line,” Moon said about his team’s ability to persevere despite any situation. “That’s when our girls flourish.”

They certainly did against Cal; now they get an opportunity to prove they’re the nation’s best against Stanford.

1 comment

  1. avatar
    Mike Caldwell

    Coach Casey Moon,
    Congratulations in your resent victories vs. UCLA, Stanford and Cal. Also for qualifying for the NCAA Championship. Good Luck at the NCAA’S.

    Mike Caldwell…