The faces might be different, but the results remain the same for the No. 3 USC men’s water polo team.
After opening the season with four consecutive wins, the Trojans (4-0) will head north to Berkeley, Calif., to take part in the highly competitive NorCal Tournament and prove that their strong start is more than just an aberration.
The challenge will be stiff, as the young Trojan squad will be forced to contend with an unfamiliar Navy team in the opening game of the weekend slate.
“They’re crafty,” USC coach Jovan Vavic said. “They do a lot of things that are different than teams out here. They have some different defensive schemes, and because we don’t see them as much, it could create problems.”
Beyond their initial matchup with the Midshipmen, the Trojans could also face highly ranked Mountain Pacific Sports Federation foes such as UC Irvine in the quarterfinals and California in the semifinals; yet overall, they remain unfazed.
“Our goal is to win the tournament and show the country we’re still the team to beat,” said sophomore driver Michael Rosenthal.
A search for the reasons behind the team’s confidence shouldn’t take long.
Thus far, eight players have tallied at least five goals each, including freshman two-meter Jeremy Davie, who leads the team with nine scores on the year.
“He knows how to establish position in two-meter,” Vavic said. “He always looks for the ball and we’ve been able to get it to him. He’s been very effective so far.”
In his usual fashion, Vavic was also quick to point out the team’s offensive balance, as opposed to singling out individual players.
“We have a bunch of other guys who scored seven goals,” Vavic said. “That’s very close, especially this early in the season. Nine goals. Seven goals. There’s not much of a difference. Overall, we really have a good scoring team.”
What might surprise most, however, is that the Trojans are getting much of their offensive output from players with little to no collegiate experience.
Two out of their top-five leading scorers are freshmen: Vavic’s son, freshman driver Nikola, and Davie. Sophomore utility Mace Rapsey, one of four in second on the team with seven goals, is logging significant minutes for the first time in his career.
“We really don’t have any true superstars on our team,” Rosenthal said. “Instead, we have a balanced group, and [we] definitely use it to our advantage. We have many different ways we can attack and beat the opponent.”
Still, doing so won’t be easy. Fifteen teams ranked in the top 20 will take part in the same tournament that the Trojans finished third in last season.
“We haven’t really played very many of the top teams in the country yet,” Rosenthal said. “We have our first big test this weekend against Cal. We’ll see where we are after that.”