May 2, 2010

Courtesy of Southern California

WESTWOOD, CALIF. -- The No. 2 seeded USC women's water polo team staved off a first-half push from No. 3 seed California and worked its way to a 9-7 win over the Bears in today's MPSF semifinals. The Trojans' win, coupled with an upset in the other semifinal match today in Westwood, puts USC up against No. 5 seeded host UCLA in the MPSF Championship match. The Trojans and Bruins will clash for the third time this season at 3 p.m. at Spieker Aquatics Center as USC goes in pursuit of back-to-back MPSF titles. USC improved to 22-2 overall with today's semifinal victory.

USC has faced and beaten UCLA twice already this season -- both by significant margins. But Sunday's title match will be the first clash between the Trojans and Bruins at UCLA's new pool. USC beat UCLA 13-3 and 14-5 in previous meetings this year. The last time USC beat UCLA three straight times in a season was in 1999, when the Trojans went 6-0 against the Bruins and went on to win USC's first national championship.

In today's semifinal showdown against No. 3 Cal, USC trailed at halftime 5-4. A first-half hat trick from Alexandra Kiss helped keep the Women of Troy in the race against the Bears, who managed buzzer-beaters at the close of the first and second periods. The Trojans followed up yesterday's lead by pitching another third-period shutout to work out ahead of the Bears, as USC took a lead it would not relinquish with a 3-0 run in the third.

USC opened the game with a Joelle Bekhazi strike off a pass from Kristen Dronberger, but Cal's Emily Csikos had an answer to even things. Alexandra Kiss' first goal of the game came on a quick slider on a USC 6-on-5 to go up 2-1, and USC goalie Tumua Anae came up big in the cage with a point-blank stop against the Bears. Cal would go up on a 6-on-5 late in the frame, and Csikos struck again with a shot that slipped through at the buzzer to tie it up again.

In the second, it was USC's turn to play catch-up. Cal took its first lead with a score at 5:50 before Kiss responded with an offspeed crosscage strike 30 seconds later. Csikos' third goal of the game came with a skipper for another Cal lead as the Bears went ahead 4-3 with 4:28 on the clock. Anae blasted another Cal close-range chance, and Dronberger put up a field block against a Cal 6-on-5 opportunity to keep USC within reach. Kamie Craig earned a USC 6-on-5 with 5 seconds left in the half, and Kiss rocketed in a bar-in score for what looked to be the leveling score going into halftime. But Csikos took the shot from half-tank for Cal and it skimmed through the crowd at the buzzer, lifting the Bears ahead 5-4 for halftime.

The second half opened to renewed momentum for the Trojans. Forel Davies nabbed the opening sprint, and Kally Lucas launched a shot off the foul that beat the shot clock to lock up the score once again, making it 5-5 with 7:27 on the clock. On a USC counterattack, the Trojans earned a 6-on-5 chance, and Dronberger hit Kami Craig going big at two-meters for the go-ahead score. On Cal's next trip down the pool, Dominique Sardo grabbed a steal and took it the other way, rifling in the score to give USC's its largest lead of the game to that point. The rest of the period would pass scorelessly, capped by a USC takeaway after a botched Cal 6-on-5.

The Bears cut it back to a one-goal game with a nearside skip from Julia Oreglia for her second goal of the day. With USC up 7-6, the Trojans got up on a counterattack soon after, with Kiss hitting Davies on the run. Cal would get whistled for a penalty on the attack, and Bekhazi stepped up to take the 5-meter penalty shot and bury it to make it 8-6 USC with 6:20 to go. A minute later, Patricia Jancso catapulted USC ahead by three with a booming score that made it 9-6 with 5:26 remaining. Cal would get one more to go with a score out of two-meters midway through the period, but the USC defense reigned supreme with one last field block from Davies to wrap up a 9-7 semifinal win for USC.

The MPSF Championship match is set for 3 p.m. tomorrow (May 2) between USC and UCLA at Spieker Aquatics Center. Stanford and Cal will be facing off in the third-place game at 1:30 p.m.

2010 MPSF CHAMPIONSHIPS (Westwood, Calif.)
Semifinals - May 1
#2 USC 9, #3 California 7
USC 2 - 2 - 3 - 2 = 9
CAL 2 - 3 - 0 - 2 = 7

USC -- Alexandra Kiss 3, Joelle Bekhazi 2, Kally Lucas, Kami Craig, Dominique Sardo, Patricia Jancso.
CAL -- Emily Csikos 4, Julia Oreglia 2, Camille Hewko.

SAVES: Tumua Anae (USC) 6, Stephanie Peckham (CAL) 9.