Stephania Haralabidis made her debut for the U.S. senior national women’s water polo team on Thursday night, and the Corona del Mar High alumna was in the mix right away.
She took the opening sprint for Team USA in the exhibition game against China at UC Irvine. And Haralabidis was aggressive early, the left-hander scoring the first goal for the team on the power play midway through the first quarter.
“On the ride over I was a little nervous,” said Haralabidis, a four-year All-American at USC who finished her career last spring as the Trojans’ second-leading all-time scorer. “But as I was hanging out with the team, they were really excited for me. After that, I wasn’t as nervous, because I was really excited to be with the girls. They got me really pumped for the game.”
Haralabidis helped CdM win its only CIF Southern Section Division 1 title in 2013 after transferring from Greece with her twin sister, Ioanna, as a senior. She has a history of winning, leading USC to the national title in 2016.
Her goal and two assists Thursday helped Team USA beat China 10-5 in the first of four exhibition games in six days for the Americans, the reigning Olympic gold medalists who also won gold at the FINA World Championships in July in Budapest, Hungary.
The exhibition series represents the team’s first games since then, and two other locals also played for a young lineup. Laguna Beach High graduate Aria Fischer, now a freshman at Stanford, scored a goal. So did Edison High alumna Alys Williams, a defender who finished her senior year at UCLA last spring.
Williams had the team’s last goal in the fourth quarter, a rocket from six meters that went off the left goal post and in with 4:36 remaining in the fourth quarter.
Six of the team’s more experienced players did not play Thursday, including team captain Maggie Steffens, former CdM High star Maddie Musselman and ex-Laguna Beach High standout Makenzie Fischer. The active lineups for each game in the series are determined on a game-by-game basis.
Team USA plays the Netherlands on Saturday at 6 p.m. at Santa Margarita High, as well as on Sunday at 2 p.m. at Loyola Marymount University. The exhibition series concludes Tuesday, when the U.S. plays China again at 7:30 p.m. at Foothill High.
Coach Adam Krikorian’s team started slow on Thursday night, with a 1-1 tie after the first quarter, before pulling away.
“That was not an easy game for them to play,” Krikorian said. “We had six players out, five field players who have played in a lot of huge games and are big leaders. If we had just played one or two of them, it would have made it much easier for that group.”
Still, Team USA proved up to the challenge, taking a 4-1 halftime lead that it stretched to 8-2 after three quarters. Paige Hauschild led Team USA with a pair of goals.
Zhang Danyi and left-hander Zhang Jing both scored two goals for China.
As for Haralabidis, who won the Cutino Award as the nation’s best collegiate women’s water polo player as a junior in 2016, she is a welcome addition to Team USA.
“It’s great to have her in the mix,” Krikorian said. “She’s left-handed, she’s fast. More importantly, she’s a good kid, and she wants to be great. She’s trying to earn her spot. She’s not young necessarily, but she’s got a long way to go. She’s learning something completely new because she hasn’t been involved in our pipeline at all.”