Trojans entering thick of their schedule

After earning its first No. 1 ranking this season, the USC men’s water polo team (8-0) enters this weekend once again as the benchmark against which other NCAA water polo programs will assess themselves.

Distinguished · Junior two-meter Peter Kurzeka looks to lead the Trojans after being named MPSF Player of the Week for last week’s work. - Katelynn Whitaker | Daily Trojan

The Trojans will play a pair of non-conference teams today at the Lancer Invitational in Irvine, Calif. At 10:30 am, they face Fresno Pacific (1-7, at the time of publication), followed by a quick turnaround game against No. 16 Cal Baptist (9-1) at noon. The team will then head to Malibu, Calif., for its Saturday MPSF debut against No. 9 Pepperdine (5-4) at noon.

The hiatus between last season’s No. 1 ranking and this year’s was primarily because of preseason pollsters’ concerns regarding the young squad’s inexperience. After impressive, well-rounded offensive performances at the NorCal Tournament, however, few questions remain about this sudden infusion of youth to the squad. But don’t expect the sudden confidence from the pollsters to cause the Trojans to rest on their laurels.

“We’re more just focused on how we’re playing as a team — preparing for each individual opponent — as opposed to listening to what others are saying,” redshirt freshman driver Stephen Siri said.

Expect USC coach Jovan Vavic to rest many of his regulars against Fresno Pacific, as the Sunbirds’ water polo program is in only its fourth year of operation and not yet competitive against MPSF heavyweights like USC. Trojan reserves will be able to log some competitive playing time which they might not see against the team’s next two opponents.

Although many eagerly await the Trojans’ MPSF opener against Pepperdine, Cal Baptist is by no means a pushover. Critics might look at the Lancers’ sterling 9-1 record and note that they have only played against one MPSF team — No. 5 UC Irvine — and lost, but Vavic knows Cal Baptist will compete.

“We saw Cal Baptist play at the tournament on Sept. 4 and they really gave UC Irvine a tough game,” Vavic said. “As a matter of fact, they were leading UC Irvine in the final minutes of the game.”

Battle-tested Pepperdine awaits the USC men’s water polo team on Saturday. Despite a mediocre eighth-place finish in the NorCal Tournament, the Pepperdine offense is averaging more than 10 goals per game.

The Waves’ two leading goal scorers, James Perry and Danny White, are focal points of the offense and will look to challenge USC junior goaltender Joel Dennerley, who had been touted by Vavic as the best goaltender USC has ever had.

In preparing for the conference opener, the Trojans are focusing more on mental preparation than on tactical adjustments.

“We’re just trying to continue our momentum from last weekend,” Siri said. “We’re working hard for a tough game against a Pepperdine, and know that we can’t take anyone lightly.”