Special. That is the word that’s been used to describe this season, these circumstances and most importantly, this USC team. Led by their veteran core, the Trojans secured their seventh national championship with an 18-9 win Sunday over rival UCLA.
After the COVID-19 pandemic cut the 2020 women’s water polo season short, many players thought that their chance at another NCAA title was over. However, the NCAA gave the 2020 seniors another year of eligibility.
These fifth-year seniors, including goalie Holly Parker, utility Maud Megens and drivers Denise Mammolito and Kelsey McIntosh, played enormous roles in leading their team with their experience from winning the title in 2018.
“This is a special group of young ladies — warriors,” head coach Marko Pintaric said. “They came together for the last season. They didn’t want to leave their careers without [another] championship because last year was canceled.”
Winning the title was also special for Pintaric, as this was his first full season as head coach.
“I know this is one of many [championships for Pintaric],” Mammolito said. “He deserves this more than anybody. He’s like a second dad to all of us.”
During the regular season, the Trojans had a near perfect record, with their only loss coming from the Bruins in the final game. In the two-game series with UCLA, USC had struggled to get through UCLA’s defense and scored just 11 goals.
The Trojans had previously faced UCLA three times in the title game and were not able to beat the Bruins. The last NCAA postseason occurred in 2019 with USC losing the title to Stanford.
But with the experience and hunger of this USC team, the Trojans would not allow those past mistakes to scare them.
Right out of the gate, USC came ready to win. Junior utility Bayley Weber got USC on the scoresheet first, followed by goals from junior driver Grace Tehaney, senior driver Verica Bakoc and junior Mireia Guiral to put the Trojans up 4-2 after the first quarter.
In the second quarter, USC extended its lead. After three huge stops by Parker in the first minute, USC put on a scoring clinic, tallying six goals in the period. Though the Trojans were up 10-5 at the half, the Bruins were still close enough to hope for a comeback.
But USC quickly squashed any chance of UCLA closing the gap during the second half. In the two regular season matches, USC struggled with the power play, going just 3-for-21. However, in this game, USC recorded seven goals on the man advantage.
The second half turned into a Maud Megens showcase, sealing her spot as the MVP of the championship. She notched four more goals and an assist, giving her a total of six goals and three assists for the game. She finishes her collegiate career tied as USC’s sixth-highest scorer.
USC closed the game out on an 8-4 run to punctuate its win.
The Trojans’ 18 goals set the record for most goals scored in a championship game, crushing the previous record of 10.
The Trojans also set the record for largest margin of victory in a title game: nine goals. The previous record was just four. This was largely because of wildly impressive goaltending from Parker, who had a career-best 13 saves in her final game at USC.
“Holly [Parker] was unbelievable today,” Mammolito said. “We knew she had our back,” Megens added.
In addition to the fifth-years, the Trojans are also losing seniors Sabrina Garabet, Kari Jensen, Randi Reinhardt and Bakoc. But all of these players are leaving behind “a commitment to hard work” and a “dedication to perfection,” Pintaric noted, for the rest of the team.