Hawaii will open its fifth appearance in the National Collegiate Women’s Water Polo Championship against a familiar nemesis.
A day after a dramatic overtime victory over UC Irvine in the Big West tournament final, the Rainbow Wahine (18-8) were paired with USC (22-5) in first-round of the 10-team tournament and will have to end a lengthy losing streak against the Trojans to advance to the semifinals.
USC leads the all-time series between the programs 36-3 and has won 15 straight against UH. Four of those meetings have come in the NCAA tournament, the last a 16-9 USC win in the semifinals in 2013.
The Trojans visited Duke Kahanamoku Aquatic Complex on March 20 and left with a 10-1 win. The NCAA rematch is set for May 8 at 10:45 a.m. Hawaii time at Stanford, Calif.
“I think we’ll be a different team than the team that showed up to play them in our home pool. And I think they will too,” UH coach Maureen Cole said on Monday.
Cole noted UH’s meeting with USC this season came with the Wahine in the midst of a rigorous training period and coming off a road trip.
“USC does a great job defensively and pressed us incredibly well that game,” Cole said. “I think going into the next one it’ll be a different game. We’ll be a lot more energetic and rested and prepared for the press that they run.”
UH has won eight of 10 matches since losing to USC and takes a five-match winning streak into the NCAA tournament. The Wahine have won two overtime matches in that stretch, including Sunday’s 9-8 win over UC Irvine.
“It really helps with confidence and helped a lot yesterday with the team. It’s about the belief system that this group has,” said Cole, who was a part of three championship teams at UCLA after graduating from Punahou.
“To be able to come back, that gives a team confidence and when a team is playing with confidence their level of play escalates. We’re pretty confident. We have a lot of work to do between now and May 8 but we’ll be excited at the opportunity.”
Sunday’s win gave the Wahine the Big West’s automatic berth in the NCAA tournament for the second time in the last three years and the program’s fifth bid overall. UH placed fourth in each of its previous appearances (2005, ’06, ’09, ’13).
The Big West placed two teams in the NCAA bracket for the first time in the conference’s history. UC Irvine, the Big West regular-season champion, was given an at-large berth and will face California in the first round.
The tournament field will be finalized on Saturday with two play-in games. UC San Diego faces Whittier for the right to take on MPSF champion UCLA. Princeton faces Wagner with the winner facing defending national champion Stanford in the first round of the three-day tournament.