No. 1 USC women’s water polo defeated No. 2 Stanford in a two-game series at Uytengsu Aquatics Center, winning 12-8 on Saturday and 12-11 on Sunday. As expected, the competition was tense, with the second game finishing in overtime.
This was a huge test for the Trojans to see where they stood against the other top team in women’s water polo. Since 2010, only USC and Stanford have won the NCAA Championship, with Stanford being the most recent champion in 2019.
These two wins against the Cardinal, who had only two losses coming into the weekend, proved just how strong this USC team is.
Redshirt senior driver Denise Mammolito was the undisputed star of the weekend, scoring 10 goals through the two games and making key defensive plays to put USC on top. Her seven-goal flourish on Sunday powered USC past Stanford and broke her single-game goal record.
“[Mammolito] hustles for her teammates,” head coach Marko Pintaric said. “Her playing on both ends, [willingness] to push and [willingness] to be brave to step into the right place at the right time [carried] the team this weekend, definitely.”
In the first game on Saturday, USC was down 2-0 early in the first quarter. Two quick goals by senior driver Sabrina Garabet equalized the match. Before this game, Garabet had three goals on the season.
Stanford never reclaimed the lead, and USC pulled away with a clean 12-8 win, with hat tricks from Mammolito and redshirt senior utility Maud Megens.
In the second matchup, both teams fought their hardest and forced overtime. Senior driver Verica Bakoc got the offense going for USC in the first half with three goals, giving her 30 on the season. At the end of the second quarter, the score was tied at five.
Stanford came into the third quarter blazing and scored two quick goals for a 7-5 lead. This was a critical moment. The Cardinals looked like they were pulling away at this point. But then Mammolito took over.
Mammolito scored all of USC’s goals in the second half. Down 8-7, USC earned a 6-on-4 power play opportunity. With only ten seconds left in the third, Mammolito hit the back of the net on an assist from Megens, tying the score at eight. But the euphoria was quickly dampened as Stanford took back the lead in the last two seconds of the quarter.
USC trailed Stanford for the first few minutes of the fourth frame. While down 10-9, Megens drew a penalty foul against Stanford, giving USC a penalty shot opportunity. Mammolito took the shot and blasted it past Stanford’s goalie, bringing the game to a tie, 10-10.
Staunch defense on both sides stifled the teams’ offense for the rest of the quarter, bringing the game into overtime.
USC proved to be the stronger team mentally and physically. Two steals by redshirt senior driver Kelsey McIntosh fueled goals from junior driver Grace Tehaney and Mammolito, giving USC a 12-10 lead.
Amazing defense and goaltending from redshirt senior Holly Parker, who matched her career-high 12 saves, squashed Stanford’s chances to tie it again. Stanford managed to squeeze in a power play goal in the last second of play, but it was too late. The Trojans beat the Cardinals 12-11.
“[We] are a very focused, veteran team,” Pintaric said. “Those single plays by our leaders on the team — making those crucial steals, making those crucial pushes in offense, making an extra pass and finishing or making big, huge stops — electrifies the team even more.”
USC’s record has improved to 14-0, and the Trojans don’t look like they’re stopping anytime soon.
The Trojans will play Arizona State on Saturday and Sunday at Uytengsu Aquatic Center. They defeated the Sun Devils in two road matches in February.