The incessant chatter hasn’t stopped. Eight months removed from a 7-6 win over UCLA in the NCAA championship game to secure a second consecutive national title, talk of a possible three-peat in 2010 hasn’t subsided in the least. For the No. 4 USC men’s water polo team, that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
High expectations are the norm.
“We have a really good shot at three-peating,” said junior two-meter Matt Burton. “Everyone’s been working really hard this summer, so I think you’ll see us in the NCAA finals again this year.”
Burton’s confidence shouldn’t come as a surprise. Over the last two seasons, USC has compiled an overall mark of 55-2 en route to two NCAA championships. It is arguably the best two-year run in program history. But for now, the Trojans’ focus is planted solely on its season opening matchups against Redlands and Whittier as a part of this weekend’s UCI Invitational at the Anteater Complex in Irvine, Calif.
“All our guys are highly motivated, and have the same dreams and aspirations,” Burton said. “We’re going at this as hard as we ever have.”
Though there is little to question about the team’s work ethic, the 2010 Trojans remain somewhat of an enigma, largely an inexperienced unit after the loss of eight seniors from a season ago.
“This is a young group,” coach Jovan Vavic said. “We’ll really need all our younger guys to step up.”
Some players, such as redshirt sophomores two-meter Brian Boswell and driver Michael Rosenthal, have championship-level experience and were a part of USC’s previous NCAA title runs. However, neither Boswell nor Rosenthal had a starting role where the team’s success was dependent upon his scoring and defensive performance.
“They’ll need to do a great job this year,” Vavic said.
Playing top-notch defense and remaining fundamentally sound are arguably the most important focuses for this USC team. The two major difficulties it will face include opening the season on the road and simultaneously breaking in a new starting unit with just three returners: goalie Joel Dennerley, driver Peter Kurzeka and Burton, all juniors.
“If we’re going to go out and win, it’s going to have to be defensive-oriented,” Burton said.
Vavic echoed similar sentiments.
“We’re going to have to play a different style than before,” the veteran coach said. “We’ll need to play great defense, as well as rely a lot on [Dennerley].”
But neither challenge should be overly tasking for USC. A year ago, the Trojans ranked first in the nation in team defense, allowing just 5.5 goals per game. In addition, they’ll once again feature Dennerley in goal, and Vavic has great confidence in the player, calling Dennerley the best he’s ever coached at the position.
“He does whatever he needs to do to prepare,” Vavic said. “He’s very conscientious and doesn’t leave things to accident. It’s really what separates him.”
With enough familiar faces returning and an influx of talent into the rotation, it’s easy to see why swagger has become synonymous with the Trojan program as it begins its quest for a three-peat just down the road in Irvine.