The USC women's water polo team captured the NCAA championship after edging Stanford.

The USC women's water polo team captured the NCAA championship after edging Stanford. (Courtesy of USC Athletics / May 13, 2013)

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They can say that they were part of the longest NCAA women's water polo championship game in history.

More importantly for Newport Harbor High graduates Kaleigh Gilchrist and Nicolina McCall, as well as Newport Beach native Chelsea Silvers (Mater Dei), they can say they're national champions.

USC freshman Anni Espar scored from long distance in the third sudden-death overtime period, lifting the Trojans to a 10-9 victory over Stanford in the NCAA title match Sunday at Harvard University.

Gilchrist, a junior co-captain who assisted on USC's first goal in the second period, was named an NCAA All-Tournament first-team selection. She finished the year second on the Trojans (27-1) with 45 goals.

McCall also scored in the NCAA title match for USC, which won its fourth NCAA women's water polo title and first since 2010.

"I'm extremely proud of this team, the players, the coaches, the parents," USC Coach Jovan Vavic told reporters in a post-match press conference. "This has been a very difficult and challenging year for us in many ways. We knew that Stanford is going to be the team to beat, with three Olympians and the national player of the year, and so many great players. We needed to believe that we could get the job done, and it took us quite some time to believe.

"...To win in this fashion, this is going to stay with this team, with these players, with these coaches forever. It's one of those things that you think of on your death bed, when you're dying. That's how special these games are, believe it or not."

USC beat Stanford for the third time in four meetings this season.

Defending national champion Stanford (29-3) featured senior goalie Kate Baldoni (CdM) and sophomore defender Catherine Carpenter (Newport Harbor), with CdM product Victoria Kennedy also on the roster.

Baldoni, last year's NCAA Tournament MVP, made 11 saves in the national title match.

"She was terrific again, just had a wonderful game," Stanford Coach John Tanner said in a post-match press conference. "She was on it, anticipated shots, read shooters really well. The goals scored on her were phenomenal … you take your hat off to Espar."

UCLA got a goal from freshman Maddy McLaren (NHHS) and defeated Hawaii, 13-8, for third place at NCAAs. The Bruins also featured junior attacker Victoria Kent, senior center Leslee Kaczmarek and freshman goalie Alex Musselman, all from Corona del Mar.

Princeton, which featured freshman Diana Murphy (CdM), outlasted San Diego State in overtime, 12-10, for fifth place.

USC junior goalie Flora Bolonyai, who made a career-high 17 saves in the title match, earned NCAA Tournament MVP honors.