USC Seeking NCAA Title Repeat As Women’s Water Polo Season Opens

Jul 26, 2021; Tokyo, Japan; United States driver Paige Hauschild (5) shooting the ball against China centre back Xiaohan Mei (3) in womens group B water polo during the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Summer Games at Tatsumi Water Polo Centre. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

USC Seeking Title Repeat As Women’s Water Polo Season Opens

The release of the Collegiate Water Polo Association’s 2022 women’s preseason rankings last week marks the unofficial start of the season for the programs competing this spring. The University of Southern California, the reigning national champ, claimed the top spot in the CWPA poll, holding a single-point lead over Stanford. Rounding out the top five are UCLA, Arizona State University and Cal-Berkeley, respectively.

Last season ended with a blowout 18-9 win by USC over UCLA in Westwood, with the Trojans putting their name in the record books with the most goals scored and the largest margin of victory ever in an NCAA women’s water polo championship game. USC redshirt senior utility Maud Megens earned the Peter J. Cutino Award for her part in the Trojans’ season. Though seniors like Megens and driver Denise Mammolito have graduated, Olympians from across the globe in drivers Paige Hauschild and Alejandra Aznar and 2-meter Tilly Kearns will return to the ranks this season.

The Bruins will be looking to reconnect with the momentum that launched them into a finals spot last season. UCLA managed a strong record of 15-5 that left them ranked at No. 2 at the end of the season. Returning players Abbi Hill and Hannah Palmer scored 28 and 36 goals, respectively, last season.

The unconfirmed return of redshirt senior Maddie Musselman, tabbed by Swimming World as Female Water Polo Player of the Year, to the Bruins could round out the depth of upperclass talent. Musselman totaled 18 goals in bringing Team USA to its third straight gold medal at the Tokyo Olympics.

Just edging out UCLA for that No. 2 spot in the preseason poll was Stanford, which boasts several new recruits hailing from Youth National and Junior Olympic championship teams across their high school careers. The program continues to produce some of the nation’s top players, with alumnae Maggie Steffens, Melissa Seidemann, Jamie Neushul, Makenzie Fischer and Aria Fischer accounting for 44% of Team USA’s goals in Tokyo.

Earning their highest preseason ranking in program history, Arizona State will be a team to look out for this season. After a record-breaking season in 2021, which included upsets of Stanford and Cal in MPSF Conference play, ASU finished the year with a final ranking of fourth in the CWPA poll, its highest since 2014.

The Sun Devil defense is perhaps its greatest asset, with defender Bente Rogge, defender Lara Kiss, and attacker Luca Petovary all earning a spot in the top 10 for field blocks — Rogge leading the list with 26. Though Rogge has graduated, the momentum the Sun Devils garnered should help the younger players with head coach Todd Clapper’s guidance.

Cal’s program has benefited well from a fall offseason training program, according to head coach Coralie Simmons. Introducing Olympians Emma Wright of Canada and Kitty Lynn Joustra of the Netherlands back into the program with other top performers in graduate student Georgia Gilmore (back from an injury), Greek National Team member Elli Protopapas and 2020 All-MPSF performer Ruby Swadling might prove easier with the added time for team bonding. Another key to the team’s chemistry is this group is mainly upperclassmen who have played extensively with each other already, an edge that not every team can boast.

It’s gearing up to be one of the most competitive seasons in NCAA women’s water polo history.