Water polo: Senior duo teams up one last time

Kami Craig and Tumua Anae should have been graduating today.

They should have been walking among thousands of peers at USC's commencement ceremony this morning, celebrating the end of their college careers and preparing for the next step.

But water polo beckoned. And so the pair of Women of Troy water polo stars — along with four other teammate graduates — were in San Diego, readying for the quarterfinal round of the NCAA championships.

"We're all bummed about not being able to walk, but I think this weekend is our graduation, in a way," says Anae, a three-year starter at goalie for USC and the 2010 MPSF Player of the Year. "It's the end of our water polo careers, and as student-athletes at USC, we've given up some other things — we're not missing out on a lot here."

As for the next step, it hasn't quite been determined yet for the Women of Troy, winners of 22 of 25 matches so far on the season. But the first step? Check.

Second-seeded USC beat seventh-seeded Marist in a blowout, 20-5, in Friday's 12:30 p.m. quarterfinal. Now, assuming the favorites win out, the Women of Troy will face nemesis UCLA in the semifinals Saturday and Stanford in the finals on Sunday.

The three losses USC suffered this season? Two to Stanford and one to UCLA.

Led by longtime men's and women's coach Jovan Vavic, USC has made its way to the championship match three of the last four seasons, only to come up empty each time. So, if the past is any indication — well, the Women of Troy argue that past is no indication.

Diane Bekhazi/USCTrojans.com

Seniors Kami Craig, left, and Tumua Anae, stars on the USC women's water polo team, are hoping to come away with their first national championship.

They say they're a different team in 2010 than in 2009 and 2008 and 2006. Judging from the words of Craig, they might be right.

"We play for each other," says Craig, who joined the team in 2006 but sat out the 2008 season to compete in the Olympics, where she won a silver medal for the United States. "We're a solid unit as a team and we fight together as a team for the same goal. We have a tight unit here and if we stay as powerful and energetic as we have this season, then we'll be successful throughout this tournament."

A year ago, Craig was named both the MPSF Player of the Year and Peter J. Cutino awardwinner, as collegiate water polo's top player. This year, Anae won MPSF honors. Both are up for the Cutino award. But the two players, who will be competing together on the U.S. women's national team this summer, laugh at any sort of a rivalry between the two.

But there's plenty of rivalry between the Women of Troy and the two teams to beat them this season, Stanford and UCLA. Craig and Anae are tired of being this close to the goal. Speaking about the possibility of finally winning the national championship, passion is easily audible in their voices on the eve of the tournament.

"It's something that I've been dreaming about for four years now," Anae says. "I've seen it in my head plenty of times.

"I just want to see it in real life."