For the No. 1 USC men’s water polo team, the weekends keep passing and the wins keep coming.
This weekend was nothing out of the ordinary in regards to the outcome, as the Trojans secured their 17th victory of the season with a 9-4 win over No. 7 Long Beach State. Senior two-meter Shea Buckner had a hat trick, and senior driver Anthony Artukovich and redshirt junior driver Kyle Sterling added two more scores each to lead USC (17-1, 4-0).
“We had a very hard week of training this past week, and our guys were tired,” USC coach Jovan Vavic said. “We played really good defense in the game; Buckner and [Matthew] Burton did a good job in the two-meter defense. We ended up stealing the ball often and forcing Long Beach into many bad passes.”
The game itself could be considered a break for the Trojans, who pulled ahead on two early scores and never looked back. Senior two-meter J.W. Krumpholz struck first, and then set up a penalty shot that Buckner converted to give USC the 2-0 advantage. Two consecutive goals by Sterling, one each in the first and second periods, put the Trojans up 4-2 going into the half.
Buckner opened up the second half with a quick goal, but Long Beach’s Joe Sherrin responded with a 6-on-5 score of his own to keep the difference at two.
The Trojans quickly found their stride again, though, as senior driver Justin Rappel scored and Artukovich found the net twice to put USC up 8-4 in three periods of play. The fourth quarter featured only one goal between the two teams, as Buckner was able to complete his hat trick and seal the 9-4 Trojan victory.
Defense was a strong point once again for the Trojans, as they recorded their ninth game this season in which they held their opponents to four goals or less. Sophomore goalkeeper Joel Dennerley recorded 12 saves, bringing his season total to 115.
The weekend was unusual, however, in the sense that USC only played one match instead of two or more. Playing more than one game has become a normal trend for the Trojans; the Trojans played six matches last week, including four in the SoCal tournament in Irvine, Calif.
The team has also played at least two games every week since Sept. 12, when it played Long Beach State.
“We are focusing mainly now on recovering from all of the games,” Vavic said. “We have so many games in a short period of time … In one weekend we had four games, and in the next four weeks we’re going have four games. We’re going to work on our conditioning and our strength in our legs, and make sure that we are very strong.”
The win brings the Trojans to 4-0 in conference play, as well as 5-0 at home. USC will face LMU next weekend at home, which will be the first time this season that the Trojans play only a single game during the weekend in back-to-back weeks.