Los Angeles. On their third season with the USC women water polo team sisters Stephania and Ioanna Haralabidis contributed greatly to one of the most remarkable seasons in USC’s water polo history, as the team completed an undefeated season earning their fifth NCAA national championship. In a thrilling match that was a 7-7 tie, it was Stephania Haralabidis’ rocket-shot that gave the Trojans an 8-7 lead with six seconds left.
That ended up been the winning goal that defeated defending national champions Stanford. That was Stephania’s fifth goal of the match and she was named the NCAA Tournament MVP, while sister Ioanna joined her on the NCAA All-Tournament First Team along with fellow Trojan Brigitta Games. Their road to championship started a long time ago when the two sisters began their water polo career in Greece. Their first sport was swimming but after a while they started searching for a more exciting sport.
Their father Babis Haralabidis, a water polo player with the Greek national team, took them to the pool one day to pass the ball around. That was it, the sisters fell in love with it and they switched their focus to water polo. It might had been their father who introduced them to the game, but it was their American mother Janet Scott who helped the girls make their dreams come true. The girls signed up on the youth division of the professional team Tritonas Amarousiou as there was no water polo available at the high school level. The long drive from their small town of Pikermi became a regular routine.
Speaking to TNH in the Heritage Hall at the USC campus the sisters said ”our mother was incredible. She drove us daily to the practices and waited for the long sessions to be over so she can take us back home to finish our homework. Many times we found her asleep in the cafeteria waiting for us. She never missed a practice or a game.” They progressed quickly and were invited to the Junior and Senior National Teams for Greece where they excelled. They won a bronze medal at the 2012 FINA World Championships in China, and two gold medals at the 2011 and 2012 Junior European Championships. Despite the successes at home, the sisters always felt that they wanted to experience playing for an established university program and in order to do that they had to go abroad.
”Unfortunately collegiate sports in Greece are very limited and do not have water polo.” The first step was to transfer for their senior high school year to Corona Del Mar High in Newport Beach and in 2013 helped them win the CIF Championship for the first time . When it was time to search for colleges their mother again anchored the effort, ”she made a highlight reel of our games and sent them to all the major college programs in the US.” And that is how USC Water Polo Coach Jovan Vavic found out about the sisters. ”I received an email from their mother and a few days later I received a reel with their highlights and I liked it. I inquired about them with other European coaches who had seen the girls compete with the Greek National Team.” Shortly the Haralabidis sisters received several offers most notably from world famous UC Berkeley and a full scholarship.
The girls however choose to challenge themselves and decided to go to USC, that has a championship caliber water polo team and one of the most decorated coaches in the country. Coach Jovan Vavic who leads both the men and women teams has won 14 national championships and has been selected the MPSF Women’s Water Polo Coach of the Year award five times. “We wanted to be coached by the best coach and to be the best players that we can be. When we attended the team practice we were blown away, we knew this is where we wanted to be” the sisters said. Coach Vavic was equally impressed with the girls ”they have good speed, quick movement, and they are strong. They are great competitors and approach the game aggressively, they don’t like to lose.”
The move has paid off in multiple ways. Not only did USC win a national championship, Stephania has also earned honors as the MPSF Player of the Year and she just won the Peter J. Cutino Award, the most prestigious individual award in American collegiate water polo. She becomes the fourth Trojan woman to become the National Player of the Year. Most importantly the girls said that ”we found a family at USC. Everyone does their best to assist us and include us, we couldn’t be any happier.”
When they are not competing they turn their attentions to their studies. ”We have not decided yet if we want to continue a water polo career after college or choose the corporate world. We are enjoying our academic and athletic lives at USC.” For now the sky is the limit for the sister champions from Pikermi, Greece.