USC Outlasts Stanford 10-9 In Five Overtimes To Claim 2013 NCAA Championship

May 12, 2013


BOSTON, MASS. -- It took more than guts to get this glory. After 45 minutes and 47 seconds of water polo, USC freshman Anni Espar drilled the game-winner for the Trojans to beat Stanford 10-9 in the third sudden-death period of play, winning the 2013 NCAA Women's Water Polo Championship for the top-seeded Women of Troy in Boston, Mass. The match was not only the first women's water polo NCAA final to go to overtime, it pushed the record out through the two 3-minute overtime periods and two 3-minute sudden death periods before Espar's bar-in rocket put a stop to things with the winner during the third sudden-death frame. The stunning and exhausting victory is USC's fourth national championship.

USC finishes the season with a 27-1 overall record, having lost only to Stanford during the MPSF regular season. Today's epic battle in Boston saw the Women of Troy come back from a three-goal deficit, having trailed the entire game until Hannah Buckling hit the equalizer with 1:56 to go in the fourth period of play. Anni Espar would blast a go-ahead goal with under a minute to go in regulation, suggesting that maybe the Trojans would get the championship in their hands during regulation. Stanford got up on a 6-on-5 advantage with just 35 seconds to go, and USC goalie Flora Bolonyai came up with a huge save, ricocheting the ball over the cage as Stanford retained possession. Just 12 seconds shy from what would have been the final buzzer, Stanford struck, as Ashley Grossman got to a centering pass and tipped it in to equalize things at 9-9 and send the game into OT.

USC struck first in the first frame of overtime, with Kelly Mendoza finishing off an opportune chance in front of the cage to give USC just its second lead of the game. Just 10 seconds away from the end of that period, Stanford found another equalizer, locking it up when Maggie Steffens' shot managed to slid across the line. In the second OT, the Cardinal managed the go-ahead goal on a strange score that saw Melissa Seidemann pump in her third goal of the game. But Buckling's fourth goal of the day was waiting in the wings, when the USC newcomer whipped in a nearside strike on a USC 6-on-5 earned by Madeline Rosenthal, pulling it even again at 9-9 with 55 seconds left. Bolonyai served up one last big save to end the frame, and the teams were on to sudden death.

It was a heart-stopping stretch of water polo that ensued as defenses held their ground and no team was able to score for the next six minutes of play. In the third sudden-death frame, Bolonay again came up clutch. The junior goalie hammered down two Stanford strikes to set her teammates off on the attack. With 1:13 on the clock, Espar came to the rescue. The freshman got up high off a foul, blazing a shot that went bar-in of the right post to end it all and give USC the unbelievable victory in Bsoton.

Bolonyai would deservedly be named the NCAA Tournament MVP at the close of competition, honoring a body of work that culminated in a career-high 17 saves today in the title match. She was joined on the NCAA All-Tournament First Team by Trojans Kaleigh Gilchrist and Anni Espar, with NCAA All-Tournament Second Team honors going to Hannah Buckling.

Buckling led all with four goals in the NCAA championship win, with Madeline Rosenthal powering in two crucial goals in the second period of play as USC worked to cut into that 3-0 deficit. Nicolina McCall, too, was instrumental in that comeback push, scoring her goal in the second frame as well. Anni Espar would finish with two goals -- the last being the championship clincher -- and Kelly Mendoza was USC fifth scorer in the game with her OT strike.

The USC women have now captured their fourth national championship in program history, going along with victories in 1999, 2004 and 2010. This is the university's 119th national championship, and also marks the fourth time that the USC men's and women's water polo programs -- under the guidance of head coach Jovan Vavic -- has won national championships in the same academic year (also accomplished in 1998-99, 2003-04 and 2009-10). The USC men won their fifth straight NCAA championship in 2012.

In other action, UCLA topped Hawaii 13-8 for third place, Princeton downed UC-San Diego 12-10 in overtime for fifth place, and Pomona-Pitzer defeated Iona 13-12 for seventh place.
2013 NCAA CHAMPIONSHIPS (Blodgett Pool • Boston, Mass.)
Championship - May 12, 2013
[1] USC 10, [2] Stanford 9 (SD3)
USC 0 - 3 - 2 - 2 --- 1 - 1 --- 0 - 0 - 1 = 10
STAN 2 - 2 - 2 - 1 --- 1 - 1 --- 0 - 0 - 0 = 9
USC -- Hannah Buckling 4, Madeline Rosenthal 2, Anni Espar 2, Nicolina McCall, Kelly Mendoza.
STAN -- Melissa Seidemann 3, Maggie Steffens 2, Kaley Dodson 2, Kiley Neushel, Ashley Grossman.
SAVES: Flora Bolonyai (USC) 17, Kate Baldoni (STAN) 11.
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