April 8, 2009

 

By Trevor Freeman
Special to NCAA.com

It was a week that boasted electric clashes and stunning upsets.  From the West Coast to the East, the jockeying for postseason position is on.  Double overtime thrillers became routine as multiple affairs required extra frames.  The gauntlet that the top three teams in the country are running in their quest for an MPSF crown began this week and it was scintillating.    

Speaking of that gauntlet, this week’s interview is with a coach whose team will settle for nothing less than an MPSF and NCAA Championship.  Jovan Vavic has been the head coach of the USC women since its inception in 1995.  In that time, USC has won two national championships.  Vavic is also the head coach of the USC men and has led the men’s and women’s team to NCAA titles in the same school year twice.  Last fall, his Trojan men had one of the great seasons in NCAA history as they not only won the NCAA championship, but put together the first undefeated season since 1992.  I sat down with Coach Vavic prior to his team’s 14-9 win over 10th-ranked Loyola Marymount 14-9 and below is our interview. 

What does USC have to do to emerge from this season as NCAA champions?

We have to do a combination of many things.  Winning an NCAA title is never easy as the competition is tough.  We do have a balanced team and we are strong in both two-meter and at goalie.  We need to stay healthy, be stronger the last month and a half of the season, be more focused and play with intensity and desire.

Kami Craig was an Olympian in 2008 and is one of the premier two-meter players in the country.  Can you tell us a little bit about her and what makes her special?

Kami is unusually strong.  I've guarded her and I can tell you she just has unbelievable strength and explosiveness.  Kami works hard, possesses toughness, big hands and is very powerful.

Michelle Stein is another star for your squad.  Can you tell us what makes her so effective?

Michelle has really matured in her time with us and has been outstanding the last two seasons.  She has really become a student of the game.  I think she can be on the Olympic team.  Very few players I have ever coached have possessed an outside shot that is as good as Michelle's.

I noted that your team has been alternating goalies between Tumua Anae and Ilse Van Der Meijden. Can you tell us a little bit about that?

It is an incredible advantage for us in workouts as the players get to shoot on two great goalies.  It is a blessing to have them both on our team.  They are friends and they each have a great work ethic.  Both are students of the game.

Joelle Bekhazi and Alexandra Kiss have both been coming on down the stretch of this season.  Can you tell us a little bit about each of them?

Joelle is experienced and has played in a ton of big games for Canada.  She is a great defender and has great poise.  Alexandra is an outstanding shooter and has become stronger and tougher in her time with us.

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There are tantalizing regular season matchups and then there is the four-time defending NCAA champions traveling to Palo Alto and taking on the top-ranked team in the country.  That happened on Friday night as UCLA took a trip to Northern California and faced the Cardinal of Stanford.  This was a game played at the level of an NCAA championship contest as the two sides engaged in a back and forth affair.  Up 8-7 in the fourth quarter, Stanford scored the goal that would decide the game as Kira Hillman’s second tally of the contest gave Stanford a two-goal cushion with fifty-five seconds left.  Even at that point, UCLA would not quit as Anne Belden cut the lead to one goal twenty seconds later.  However, Stanford ran out the clock to score a huge MPSF win. 

When analyzing the above contest, the one thing that sticks out is just how evenly matched Stanford and UCLA are.  The difference between those two teams playing at their best was one goal in Stanford’s house.  Had that game been played in UCLA, it could easily be the Bruins emerging as one-goal victors.  The rest of this regular season lines up perfectly as Stanford, USC and UCLA will all play each other.  Next Saturday, second-ranked USC plays UCLA at UCLA in what should be another titanic clash.  The following Saturday, top-ranked Stanford travels to USC.  Whoever wins the MPSF regular season title will have earned it.  It would not surprise me if all three teams held serve at home and first place in the MPSF ended in a three way-tie at 6-1.

Fifth-ranked California scored a gigantic win as they defeated eighth-ranked Arizona State 11-9 behind three goals from freshman Emily Csikos.  This win ensures that Cal will finish the conference season at least 3-4 in the MPSF.  Cal wins a projected three-way tiebreaker with San Jose State and Hawaii and has wrapped up placing fourth in conference.  Speaking of sixth-ranked San Jose State, their NCAA at-large chances suffered an extremely damaging blow at the Bronco Invitational.  The Spartans lost 12-11 to 16th-ranked Cal-State Bakersfield as Shannon McKenzie dropped in a game-winner with 1:25 left in the fourth quarter.  San Jose State is now in the position of having to score a marquee win to cover for this devastating defeat.

On the other end of the country, Brown earned a stunning upset over 12th-ranked Hartwick.  Goalie Stephanie Laing was electric as she had 20 saves in the 8-7 double overtime victory.

Player to Watch

Sara Olguin, Wagner, Fr.:  Wagner took a big step forward in their quest to get back to the NCAA tournament as they defeated MAAC preseason favorite Marist 13-12 in double overtime.  Olguin provided the heroics as she scored the game-winner with 27 seconds left in the final overtime period.  The play of Kelsey Rodgers should also be recognized as she had 12 saves in the Wagner win.   

Contest To Keep An Eye On

One of the great cross-town rivalries will resume next Saturday as USC travels to UCLA.  This game will be a war as UCLA needs a win here to have any shot at winning the MPSF regular season title.  The last time these two teams played was at the UCI Invitational.  USC won that game 8-7.  That game had a disputed ending as UCLA’s Kelly Easterday had the game-tying goal taken off the board with under five seconds left in the contest.  Prior to winning that game, USC had lost 10 straight times to the Bruins.