May 16, 2010

Kyle Kensing
Special to NCAA.com

SAN DIEGO - Southern California coach Jovan Vavic was still soggy from the celebratory dip in the pool following his team's 10-9 NCAA women's water polo championship clinching defeat of Stanford Sunday.

He was also all smiles with Women of Troy seniors Tumua Anae and Kally Lucas on either side of him.

"When you're a coach for so many years, you think it's going to get old," he said. "But I'm as excited about this finish, this championship as [2004]. It doesn't get old. In fact, in some ways I was more excited for this one because we waited so long."

Past frustrations were exorcised at the San Diego State University Aztec Aquaplex in a defeat of top-seeded Stanford that came literally down to the final play. Despite leading through three periods, USC had to hold off a Stanford rally that nearly bridged a four-goal gap.

Annika Dries' goal with 45 seconds left brought Stanford within one for the first time since early in the third period, and capped a torrid, 1-minute, 40-second sprint.

With momentum decidedly on Stanford's side and less than a minute separating USC from the championship it had been denied in the previous two title games, the Women of Troy regrouped.

"With 45 seconds left, we were all in the center of the pool saying, `This is the best defense of our lives,'" said USC's Lucas. "And we got our stop. It's something special -win by four, win by one, it feels great either way."

This was not unfamiliar territory for either squad. The Cardinal and Women of Troy last met April 24 in a match that featured a Stanford rally and eventual overtime win.

That time was for the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation championship.

"It played out exactly as our other games did, where they came out with a lot of energy, executed and got out to a lead," said Stanford coach John Tanner. "It was eerily similar to our other games. We came back chipping away. We got great looks, but didn't convert. We were spending a lot of energy to get back in it."

USC was able to build that lead thanks to a potent power-play attack. The Women of Troy converted on four such opportunities in the first half, and tacked on another in the fourth period.

As successful as USC was offensively on the power play however, Vavic credited his team's defense against the power play as key.

"Our five-on-six defense was great. It saved us today, in fact," he said.

Stanford was only able to capitalize on two power-play opportunities, but the Cardinal remained within striking distance thanks to its penalty shooting. Senior Kelly Eaton scored on all four of her penalty chances.

While Eaton carried a bulk of the load for Stanford, USC spread the scoring wealth through seven different players. Lucas, Patricia Jansco and Kristen Dronberger were USC's multiple goal scorers, each providing two.

Lucas had the final score, moments after Kami Craig put USC ahead, 9-6, on a goal she followed with a spirited celebration.

It was one example of an especially fired-up USC squad.

"It was the most passionate water polo games I've ever played," said Anae, a dynamo in the cage Sunday, who followed up one crucial save with a wag of the finger.

"I was surprised. Pleasantly surprised," laughed Vavic.

Cheering on its team's energetic play was a noisy USC contingent. Members of the university's band were in attendance, as well as cheerleaders.

"With the band and our family and friends, I'd say we brought our home pool to San Diego," Anae said.

And with championship wrapped up, USC left its mark in San Diego.

NOTES: Marist topped Pomona-Pitzer, 6-5, to claim seventh place. The fifth place game went to UCLA, which upended Michigan, 9-6.

California claimed its first NCAA water polo trophy and finished third in the tournament with an 11-7 defeat of Loyola Marymount in the consolation championship.

USC's Craig earned Most Valuable Player honors. She highlights an All-Tournament team featuring:

First Team
Camille Hewko (Cal)
Jessica Steffens (Stanford)
Tumua Anae (USC)
Anne Scott (Loyola Marymount)
Melissa Seidemann (Stanford)
Kristen Dronberger (USC)
Forel Davies (USC)

Second Team
KK Clark (UCLA)
Kristine Cato (LMU)
Annika Dries (Stanford)
Leah Robertson (Michigan)
Kim Krueger (Stanford)
Kelly Eaton (Stanford)
Dana Ochsner (Cal)
Samantha Swartz (Marist)
Tamara Perea (Pomona-Pitzer)