A week ago, the No. 1 USC men’s water polo team moved to the top of the polls after edging California and UCLA to win the prestigious NorCal Tournament.
On Friday and Saturday, the Trojans (11-0, 1-0) proved that they were more than deserving of their top ranking, thrashing No. 9 Pepperdine 13-4 in the team’s Mountain Pacific Sports Federation opener following earlier wins over Fresno Pacific and No. 16 Cal Baptist in the Lancer Invitational in Riverside, Calif.
“I really didn’t know what to expect when we started the year because we’re so darn young, but we have really good leadership,” USC coach Jovan Vavic said. “Joel [Dennerley], Peter [Kruzeka] and [Matt] Burton have done everything I asked them to do and the team has responded.”
But to say the Trojans have simply responded to the coaching staff and junior leadership could be a bit of an understatement.
So far, despite its inexperience, Vavic’s bunch has notched 11 consecutive wins — including resounding victories against several top-five programs — en route to earning its No. 1 ranking. In short, the Trojans have surpassed all expectations, and Saturday’s showcase with Pepperdine once again proved the group’s maturation.
After building up a 5-0 first quarter lead against the host Waves, the Trojans continued their offensive onslaught, powering their way to an 8-1 halftime lead.
“It all started with good defense,” Vavic said. “Our guys shifted and helped each other. We forced them into taking poor shots.”
Unlike the weeks prior, they didn’t take their foot off the pedal and allow the opposition to get back into the game.
Instead, USC ballooned its lead to a 10-goal margin with four minutes remaining in the contest, before relinquishing just one last goal in the final moments. In short, Pepperdine was never afforded the opportunity to even make the game competitive.
“It’s been a problem for the entire season,” Vavic said. “We would have a couple good quarters, then one bad quarter. But today, the captains talked about that at the beginning of the fourth quarter. They said, ‘No more. Let’s just focus and get the job done.’”
There was no shortage of scoring during the game. Redshirt sophomore driver Michael Rosenthal and freshman driver Nikola Vavic each recorded hat tricks, and freshman two-meter Jeremy Davie and sophomore driver Tobias Preuss also had multiple-goal performances.
Remarkably, it was the seventh multiple-goal outing for Vavic, the son of coach Jovan Vavic.
“It’s really no different than coaching any other player,” the elder Vavic said. “He’s really a spark player and he knows the game well. It’s fun to coach him because he’s really quick in understanding what we want him to do.”
Friday’s contests with Fresno Pacific and Cal Baptist provided even more offensive fireworks, as the Trojans finished with a total of 32 goals in two games, serving as preparation for their road date with Pepperdine. Fourteen players also knotted at least one goal during the two-game tournament.
“We were able to do some stuff in those couple of games that otherwise we couldn’t do,” Vavic said. “We tried a couple of things and it prepared us really well.”