After opening its season with five consecutive wins, the USC men’s water polo team will look to continue its hot start in Palo Alto this weekend at the NorCal Tournament, hosted by Stanford.
The two-day, four-game tournament will be the first good look the Trojans (5-0) will have at Mountain Pacific Sports Federation competition, as all nine members of the conference will be in attendance for the 16-team event.
Although tough competition looms around every corner at the NorCal Tournament, there are a few teams that the Trojans have already encountered that they may see this weekend.
USC will open against Pomona-Pitzer, which the Trojans faced in their season opener at the Triton Invitation. In that match the Trojans pulled out the easy win 16-2. A win against the Division III No. 3 Sagehens would match the Trojans against either UC Irvine, which the Trojans have yet to face, or Long Beach State, who fell victim to the Trojans last weekend 12-3.
Saturday may be the day to relive the early successes of the Trojans’ season, but Sunday looms with all new opponents that by all accounts are very dangerous and improved from just a season ago.
UCLA, Loyola Marymount and UC San Diego loom as possible opponents in the NorCal semifinals, and there are a variety of teams that could be waiting for the Trojans when it comes time to crown a champion at the first major tournament of the season, late Sunday afternoon.
No. 2 Stanford, which the Trojans beat in the finals of the NCAA tournament last season to cap off a perfect season and a national championship, would be the popular pick to meet USC in the finals — especially with the Cardinal hosting the event. But other teams, including No. 3 California, could also land in the finals.
“This is the toughest tournament we’re going to see this year,” senior driver Anthony Artukovich said. “All the best teams are going to be there, so it’s important for us to come out hard.”
Artukovich is part of a senior Trojan contingent that has never lost at the NorCal tournament, and the team is looking to continue that trend in this important early season event.
“We have to send [the seniors] out with one last victory up north,” sophomore driver Peter Kurzeka said. “But on any given day, one team plays bad and they could be looking at a loss, so its important to take each game seriously.”
The coaching staff has had to prepare for most of the 16 teams that will be present in Palo Alto, and Kurzeka recognizes the level of play that the team will see up north.
“[Stanford] is just as strong as they were last year, they’re returning their best players and their goalie,” Kurzeka said of the Trojans’ possible finals opponent. “And [California] is going to put out a team that’s a lot stronger than last year.”