USC women's water polo deals with 'insane' event for second season in a row

Denise Mammolito could hardly believe the news. Although the USC water polo player was in virtual class – a sign of the growing coronavirus outbreak – she couldn’t understand that the new virus could potentially take away the NCAA championships, too.

They were two months away, she reasoned. Then the feeling of shock only increased when she noticed the date.

12 March.

Exactly a year after the day head coach Jovan Vavic was fired for his role in the university admissions scandal, USC women’s water polo was once again devastated when the NCAA canceled the winter and spring championships during the COVID-19 pandemic .

The Trojans continued at the first event, advanced to the NCAA final last year, and dropped one goal to Stanford. Now they don’t even get a chance to beat the second.

“The most frustrating of all of this has been the past four months, we’ve worked so hard to achieve this goal,” said Mammolito. “We are all in top shape now and to take that away so suddenly I think that’s the hardest part for all of us.”

The Trojans, hardened by the FBI scandal that turned the program on its head, were already prepared for more challenges this year. They knew they would be without four All-Americans without Olympic service, but still achieved the No. 1 ranking in the preseason polls and maintained the distinction throughout the year. Their only loss was at No. 2 UCLA on February 9 and they avenge the result on February 22.

While stars Alejandra Aznar (Spain), Paige Hauschild (USA), Maud Megens (Netherlands) and Tilly Kearns (Australia) trained for their respective national teams, USC (12-1) relied on a balanced attack to remain title favorites.

Instead of Megens, who scored 19 goals more than the next top scorer last season, sophomores Grace Tehaney and Mammolito led the attack with 29 and 23 goals respectively.

Mammolito, a Rancho Cucamonga High alumna who scored 29 goals in 30 games last season, was one of many senior head coach Marko Pintaric who was praised for stepping up when needed.

After a limited playing time early in her career, Elise Stein took the lead and delivered 13 goals in as many games. She had a hat-trick in USC’s win over Loyola Marymount on February 1. Kelsey McIntosh, an honorable mention to the All-Mountain Pacific Sports Federation last year, had 19 goals, the fourth most on the team, while Kaylee Brownsberger doubled last year’s goals total. with eight.

“We miss four really good players, but according to the team, there is always someone else to intervene and take the time,” said Pintaric. “We know what the team needs to achieve to win games and I am very proud of the seniors who get that message across. … They are a big reason why we stayed and finished the season at No. 1.”

Pintaric said that all seniors have expressed an interest in returning next year since the NCAA announced additional eligibility for all spring athletes. He would like them to have the opportunity to properly complete their careers, especially after all they have given to the program.

The coach thanked the leadership of his seniors and assistant coaches for navigating the team through unprecedented events this year, but Mammolito called Pintaric ‘our rock through everything’.

“We’ve never been in a situation like this,” said Pintaric. “It requires a new mindset, a new championship mindset where it’s really important to take care of the families, take care of ourselves. They were heartbroken … but they understood.”

Although there are no training and competitions, Pintaric confirms that he can always coach. He helps his two children with online school while thinking about organizing his team’s future needs, learning the game, and researching future recruits. With his team spread out, his first goal is to make sure they stay connected. The unpredictable events of the past two seasons have taught the Trojans how important that is.

“We’ve been through insane things in the past two years and we just know that at the end of the day, your teammates will always have your back,” said Mammolito. “Our coaching staff ensures hard work and perseverance and we all know that if we stick together we can overcome anything.”

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