Denise Mammolito’s hat trick sealed No. 1 USC women’s water polo’s sixth national title in a 5-4 win over No. 2 Stanford—the Women of Troy’s second title in two years. The sophomore driver scored the game-winner with just under two minutes leftto play following a pass from Kelsey McIntosh off of a steal from freshman Paige Hauschild.
The Women of Troy’s 16th straight win this season snagged USC’s 105th NCAA title as a school.
Mammolito, the only player in the pool with a multi-goal game, credited the “great passes” from her teammates that set up her goals throughout the game
“Just being ready for the moment and ready to step up,” Mammolito said. “I know anybody else would’ve done it, too, if they were in the same position.”
1 of 14Photos from USC’s sixth national championship. (Jodee Storm Sullivan/Annenberg Media)
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As a sophomore, Mammolito is younger than the rest of her teammates sitting in the press conference after the game. When asked to describe how it felt to have led her team to the title with a hat trick, she smiled and paused just a second before answering.
“It’s an unbelievable feeling…never felt it before,” Mammolito said. “I’m just thankful that I got to experience it with all the girls and the coaches—it’s just unreal.”
Right before Hauschild dished the ball forward to set up the breakaway for Mammolito’s go-ahead goal, head coach Jovan Vavic was about to call a timeout.
“Both teams were tired and I wanted to organize our offense, but I saw it develop on the fast break,” Vavic said. “I’m lucky I didn’t call it. It was beautiful.”
After the team’s 10-6 semifinal win over No. 4 UCLA, Vavic mentioned how selfless the team is as a whole. That selflessness came in handy in the low scoring, defense dominant national championship. Senior utility Hayley McKelvey highlighted the personality of the team she had “the honor to play with.”
“Everyone wants to win no matter who steps up, no matter whose day it is, no matter who is having the best scoring day of their lives,” McKelvey said. “We all take the opportunity to see that and set that player up.”
From the start, it was obvious that the game would come down to the final couple of possessions. The Trojans and the Cardinal traded possessions and shots throughout the first period. Stanford’s Jordan Raney sent one in the net, about halfway through the second period, for the first goal of the game. About three minutes later, senior utility Brianna Daboub was the first to score for the Trojans.
After another Stanford goal, Mammolito tied it once again early on in the third period, her first of the game. Neither team could really get a leg up on the other. Each time the Cardinal scored, the Women of Troy would tie it right back up. With just two seconds to go in the third, Hauschild evened the score once more.
Mammolito’s second goal of the game, early in the fourth, gave USC its first lead, but that didn’t last too long. A couple of minutes later, Stanford tied it again. About four minutes later, Hauschild got the steal, which eventually led to Mammolito’s game-winner to secure her hat trick and the title for the Women of Troy.
Junior goalie Amanda Longan put up her second consecutive 10-save game against Stanford, making her No. 3 all-time in career saves (580) at USC. This year, she was also named the MPSF Player of the Year for her dependability in the cage. In a game that was battled out at the net, Longan came through for her teammates and the national title. It was her final save of the game that solidified USC’s victory.
“[The] last few minutes of the game, I just kept telling myself, out loud but to myself, ‘just do your job. Do your job regardless of whether hands up or blocking their spot or not, it doesn’t matter. You can cover a lot of cage, you’re fast,’” Longan said. “I was just trying to amp myself and just be ready for everything…do what I could for my girls.”
Longan was named the Most Valuable Player of the NCAA Tournament. Four USC players—Mammolito, Hauschild, Daboub, Longan—made up the seven-person All-Tournament First Team. Sophomore utility Maud Megens was named to the All-Tournament Second-Team.
A Balance of Youth and Experience
Hauschild has gotten plenty of attention for her immediate impact on the team this season. She was the MPSF Newcomer of the Year and picked up the weekly award by the same name seven times, tying the all-time MPSF record. With 68 goals on the season, she’s scored the most goals ever by a USC true freshman.
While only scoring one goal against the Cardinal, she made herself vital on defense with four steals—mainly the one that led to Mammolito’s game-winner. She also went four-for-four on opening sprints.
“Paige is a future Olympian, probably three, four-time Olympian, as long as she wants to play water polo she will be an Olympian,” Vavic said. “She’s just a tough, tough kid and she has it all: speed, size, strength, shot, defense. People don’t really know how good this girl is going to be.”
While Hauschild and Mammolito represent the youth on the team, the upperclassmen represent a competitive legacy that the program has had during their time in the Cardinal and Gold. The juniors and seniors on the team knew what it would take to win a national championship having gone undefeated en route to the national title in 2016. This season, winning a national title at home was the best way to send the seniors off. For Daboub, winning this particular title has been on her mind since her freshman year.
“NCAAs is always an emotional experience, not just for me, but I think all of my teammates,” Daboub said. “To have four years to look forward to this moment…this is truly incredible for me to be able to go out with my best friends, my seniors, especially in our own pool is really incredible and a special moment.”
Always a Top-Level Matchup
This was the fourth time this season that the Trojans and the Cardinal faced off. In their first meeting, Stanford came away with the win. USC would then take the next two, notably, a 13-12 overtime win in the MPSF Tournament Championship. But in NCAA play, everything from the past is off the table.
“When it comes to this weekend, this is everything. this is everything that we train for,” Longan said. “This wasn’t going to be easy, regardless of how past games went and how they didn’t go.”
Last year, in the semifinal between No. 2 Stanford and No. 3 USC, the Trojans fell 11-10. Senior two-meter Brigitta Games suffered two broken ribs in the second quarter, meaning she played two and a half quarters with the injury. Her injury “did not sit well with [Vavic] or [his] players.”
“She still made it very, very close,” Vavic said. “I hope Brigitta is watching and listening. Brigitta, we got this for you, baby.”
For the players, getting the NCAA rematch against Stanford was great motivation.
“It really fuels our fire,” McKelvey said. “Just knowing that we lost to Stanford and we were going to get that opportunity to show our stuff again in the final at home.”
Regardless of the sport, a game between USC and Stanford is always set to be competitive. The two schools continually face off in conference play—the Pac-12 and MPSF—and on the national stage as well.
“It was incredibly physical and it always is against Stanford,” Daboub said. “They played a good game and we just tried to focus on playing our game…but, ultimately, it was about playing for each other.”
Winning national titles is nothing new for 2018 MPSF Coach of the Year Jovan Vavic. He’s led teams to 15 national titles, six by the women and nine by the men, while at USC.
“Winning is great, but when you’ve coached for so many years, it’s more about the players and having them experience what I’ve experienced so many times,” Vavic said. “A few championships, more or less, are not going to change anything in my life, but I am really, really happy for them.”
Vavic has been with the women’s water polo program since its inception in 1995 but this year’s team had a personality all of its own.
“This is the most competitive group I’ve ever had…not necessarily the most talented,” Vavic said. “They all hate to lose. They all fight for it. They all want to win as badly as the coaches do.”
The Women of Troy graduates eight seniors at the conclusion of their 26-1 national championship season, but the players who remain have the competitive spirit to be just as successful under Vavic next season.
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