If it seemed like the USC men’s water polo team couldn’t fit much more into its weekends, then think again.
The Trojans could potentially play six games this weekend, as they face a Friday doubleheader against No. 15 Princeton and Golden West College, and the SoCal Tournament on Saturday and Sunday. This marks the fourth weekend in a row in which USC has had at least two games scheduled, but this weekend promises to be the biggest of them all.
“Before we start the season, [coach Jovan Vavic] puts us through one of the most grueling hell months among any of the sports on the campus,” senior two-meter Jordan Thompson said. “Six games [in three days] is a first — it’s a challenge — but we’ll face it and bite the bullet.”
The Trojans will return to McDonald’s Swim Stadium for just the second time this season, squaring off first against a formidable Princeton team that started the year ranked in the top 10, but has since dropped off after going 7-4. The Tigers have been battle-tested so far in 2009, facing then-No. 4 UCLA, No. 16 Santa Clara, No. 19 Brown and No. 20 Johns Hopkins in their first five games. USC and Princeton played each other for the first time last season with the Trojans coming out on top 11-4, behind goals from junior driver Devon Borisoff and senior driver Justin Rappel.
“[Princeton] has always had a crafty team, and our coaches prepare us to expect the unexpected,” Thompson said.
The latter match of the day is USC’s second scrimmage in just as many weeks, as the Trojans face Golden West, a team often considered to be one of the premier community college water polo teams in the nation. The Rustlers won the 2008 California state water polo championship in their division, and have won 19 titles since beginning play in 1966.
On Saturday, the Trojans will travel to Irvine for the SoCal Tournament, a two-day event that is USC’s third tournament of the season. The Trojans won the event last year and showed their sheer dominance in doing so, scoring 49 goals in four games while holding their opponents to a combined score of only 19. USC beat Stanford 8-7 in the final, scoring on a game-winning shot in overtime to secure the championship title.
USC will face No. 17 Bucknell in the first game of the tournament, and then play either UC Davis or UC Santa Barbara depending on the result. USC is 3-0 all time against Bucknell, but the two teams have not played since 2004. The Bison are 11-6 this season, and had a four-game winning streak before losing to No. 15 Princeton. But they responded by beating No. 18 Navy,
“Because we lost a game early in the season, this tournament holds much more [significance] than any other tournament we’ve played this season,” Thompson said. “It’s absolutely vital that we go in and set the tone early.”
If the Trojans can advance, the odds are certainly in their favor to win in the second round; USC has never lost in 14 games to Davis, and is 53-12-2 all-time against Santa Barbara. But with the packed schedule in front of them, getting through the weekend will be an additional challenge in and of itself.