May 17, 2010

By Trevor Freeman
Special to NCAA.com

It began in the fall when the USC men hit the water with NCAA Championship dreams and it ends in the spring with the Women of Troy throwing Jovan Vavic in the pool after another national title. USC owned this season in aquatics and it is a tribute to the tremendous program that Coach Vavic has built in his sixteen years with the Trojans. For a third time, he has led the USC men and women to NCAA Championships in the same school season. USC defeated Stanford 10-9 to win their second NCAA title on the women’s side.

The title belongs to the Trojans and they earned it as they survived a late three-goal rally by Stanford that shrunk a 10-6 lead to what was the final score. While the final margin may have only been one goal, USC was the better team throughout the contest and this was a well-deserved victory. After Kelly Eaton struck first for Stanford, USC scored the next four goals and never trailed again in taking home the NCAA title.

At the beginning of the season, I spoke with Coach Vavic and in our February 1st NCAA.com interview, I inquired about last season’s crushing 5-4 loss to UCLA in the national title game and asked what USC needed to do to win this season’s title. He said, “We need to score more goals. In that game, we were shut down by UCLA in the second half. Our defense was good in that game as we didn't allow a goal in the second half; however our offense only scored once. We scored seventeen goals in the semifinals against Hawaii so we have the firepower to do it. We have a powerful offense. It just needs to be more consistent.” His offense showed up in this game as seven different players scored in the USC victory with Kristen Dronberger, Patricia Jansco and Kally Lucas each scoring twice to lead the way. Tumua Anae sparkled once again in the cage as she compiled eight saves and also made a couple nice steals coming out of her goalie position.

What made this exceptional for the Trojans was that they were boasting a large senior class as Tumua Anae, Kami Craig, Forel Davies, Alexandra Kiss and Kally Lucas all played their last game for USC. Craig and Anae were particularly special players as Craig is the defending Cutino Award winner and was a 2008 United States Olympian while Anae entered the NCAA Tournament as the newly crowned MPSF Player of the Year. USC boasted great players with their heart being their outstanding seniors. Those five seniors leave college as Champions and that is a great tribute to that large class.

The Women of Troy made it to the NCAA Championship with wins over twentieth-ranked Marist and seventh-ranked Loyola Marymount while Stanford found their way to the title tilt by virtue of wins against Pomona-Pitzer and fourth-ranked California in the Final Four.

While USC loses the aforementioned five senior standouts, the cupboard is not bare as the Trojans return a pair of devastating outside shooters in junior Joelle Bekhazi and freshman Patricia Jansco. The Women of Troy also bring back two-meter Kristen Dronberger whose inside play was the difference for the Trojans in their 10-6 Final Four victory over Loyola Marymount. Stanford will also be a team to watch for next season as they return a top-notch unit that will include two-meters Melissa Seidemann and Annika Dries along with goalie Amber Oland.

For the first time in recent memory, we will not refer to UCLA as the defending NCAA Champions as their five year run ended on Friday night. However, that may only last for a season as the MPSF Tournament Champions will be loaded next year. Caitlin Dement along with the goalie we will talk about later in this paragraph will be the two best returning goalies at the NCAA level. Complimenting her will be an explosive offensive attack that will be headlined by Priscilla Orozco, KK Clark, Grace Reynolds and Kelly Easterday. The team that finally ended UCLA’s reign of terror will also return a squad that will be in the NCAA title race. Loyola Marymount scored a monumental 5-4 victory over the Bruins in their first round game on Friday night and they return a number of key contributors including redshirt freshman goalie Kristine Cato who was sensational in that win. Cato garnered eleven saves in that victory and her electric performance generated the same kind of buzz that her male counterpart Andy Stevens (current LMU goalie and United States National team member) created in his first NCAA Tournament.

One big storyline heading into next season will be the Big West receiving an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament. Look for that conference to produce teams that have an immediate impact at NCAAs next season as defending Big West Champion UC-Irvine and fifteenth-ranked UC-Santa Barbara are both returning loaded squads. The automatic addition of the Big West champion will have an enormous impact on the NCAA field as it will put additional emphasis on not only being perfect during the regular season but also on the conference tournaments. With only two NCAA at-large bids available next season, it should mean that every team in the country will approach their respective conference tournaments with a sense of urgency.

With all of that being said, we have an entire offseason to look ahead. On this day, we should look back at what the University of Southern California accomplished during this water polo season. They entered this campaign with the burden of championship expectations and on Sunday night they performed when it counted. Eight teams competed for one prize and for the first time since 2004, the Women of Troy walked away NCAA Champions. Many teams played the sport of water polo; however only one team owned it and that squad is USC.