Los Angeles CA — What a nail-biter!
No. 1 USC went head to head on Sunday against its rival No. 2 Stanford for the fifth time since the NCAA Women’s Water Polo Championship games began in 2001. The matchup was held at the Uytengsu Aquatic Center at USC, giving the Trojans an at home advantage.
Stanford was expected to win since the Cardinal had competed in the Championship Finals consecutively since 2010, and they were last year’s victors; however, like many memorable sports stories, those who are expected to win, do not always end up winning.
The Trojans gained first possession in the game during the opening sprint, but quickly lost the ball when it was blocked by Stanford’s freshman Aria Fischer. Fischer tried to follow through with the play but, unfortunately, put too much on the skip and let it fly over the goal.
It was a constant back and forth battle between the two teams. Stanford stayed aggressive and made sure to block any ball that came their way, while USC remained calm and collected as they tried to maneuver their shots. The competition was too tight-knit; hence, why the score ended pointless in the first quarter.
After multiple man downs due to exclusions, the Cardinal knew they needed to pick up the momentum if they wanted to be defending champions. Stanford’s two-meter defender Jordan Raney, saw the chance for a corner shot and went for it as she converted the first goal of the game and put her team at a one-point advantage, 1-0.
After the Cardinal scored, the Trojans were slightly discouraged, but still motivated them nonetheless. Speaking of which, one USC’s players, in particular, appeared to receive a burst of energy after the goal.
Denise Mammolito, the Trojans driver, pulled a massive drive and saw an opportunity to score, however, she fell short from a block by Stanford goalkeeper Julia Hermann. While Mammolito didn’t score, the momentum of a near goal still was driving her team as her teammate Brianna Daboub took advantage of Stanford being down a man due to exclusion and capitalized to even the score at 1-1.
Anxious still to score herself, Mammolito’s aggressiveness toward the goal only intensified in the second half. Down by one in the third period. Mammolito tied the score at two-points apiece as her relentless pursuit to tally a point on the board for her team finally happened.
To top it off, Fischer bit back and increased the point gap once again between USC and Stanford while in the two-meter. The score read 3-2 with only 20 seconds left in the third quarter in favor of the Cardinal, but little did Stanford know USC wasn’t done scoring in the period.
With only 11 seconds remaining in the frame, Stanford picked up another exclusion, giving USC a 6-on-5 advantage. Paige Hauschild, a driver for the Trojans, took a shot at the goal from the five-meter and scored with only three ticks left on the clock.
With a championship title on the line, the score was now tied at 3-3 entering the last eight minutes of play.
Encouraged by the crowd and her teammates in the fourth, Mammolito scored another goal, now giving USC a slight lead, 4-3. On the other end of the pool though, Stanford’s Kat Klass would strike for the Cardinal and bring the score to a tie (4-4) and time quickly disappearing on the game clock.
The Trojans’ sophomore sensation wasn’t finished as Mammolito once again delivered for her team. With 1:57 remaining in the match-up, she threw in another goal – her third of the day – to put USC back in the lead at 5-4. Stanford had a chance to tie the game with a 6-on-5 advantage once again; however, Amanda Longan had another save and protected the goal for USC.
After trailing early in the game and lots of close goals, USC was crowned this year’s NCAA Women’s Water Polo champions. The win brought the hardware back to the Trojans for the first time since 2016, yet is the program’s fifth National Championship.
Both teams gave it their all in such a tight finish, making this year’s championship game the lowest scoring title match-up since 2009.
Host/Reporter for The Ball Out: Melina Joseph is a Cal State Fullerton graduate who majored in broadcast journalism. Melina has covered the LA Lakers, the LA Sparks, and has talent escorted for multiple awards shows, such as Nickelodeon’s Kids Choice Awards, FOX’s Teen Choice Awards, and CW’s Critics Choice Awards. She has worked under many influencers, including Power106 DJ Mando Fresko, while working as an editorial intern and host for Hubwav