For those who have the No. 1 USC men’s water polo team (15-0) on upset alert in this Saturday’s 3 p.m. match against No. 6 Stanford (6-4), be forewarned that coach Jovan Vavic has already beaten you to the punch.
Concerned that midterms and 15 consecutive wins to open the season might portend a lackluster effort against the Cardinal, Vavic held a meeting with his young team this week in hopes of maintaining its focus.
“[Vavic] warned us of a possible letdown, and we understand the risk, but we’re all as motivated as ever,” redshirt sophomore driver Michael Rosenthal said. “We know that, even though we are the No. 1 team, people still probably don’t give us as much respect as we think we deserve. With that in mind, I think we’ll continue our streak.”
Although the Trojans boast a 17-game win streak against the Cardinal entering this Mountain Pacific Sports Federation clash at the Avery Aquatic Complex, Vavic believes Stanford’s physicality and star two-meter players will challenge his team.
“I think they’re going to try to set the tempo with lots of physical play early. Because we have a young team, they’ll probably want to see how we’ll respond to a physical type of game,” Vavic said. “We have to be prepared for the two big, strong two-meter men they have, and they have three or four very good outside shooters.”
The two-meters to whom Vavic referred are senior Jeffrey Schwimer and junior Peter Sefton, whom Stanford will utilize to run post-ups and distribute the ball to its talented shooters. Another player the Trojans must contain is junior driver Jacob Smith, the Cardinal’s leading scorer with 24 goals on the season.
Fortunately for USC, it has prepared for Stanford two weeks in a row, as the Trojans expected to face the Cardinal in the SoCal Tournament on Oct. 3. The Cardinal, however, were upset in the second round by UC Santa Barbara.
Game planning and advanced scouting aside, if the Trojans execute their offense and disrupt the Cardinal’s set offensive plays, the team will keep its sterling undefeated record intact. Ultimately, the Trojans’ objective to convert the preseason skeptics — however few remain — will not allow their focus to wander.
“With certain inexperienced teams you might have a letdown, with everyone thinking no one can stop us. But we’ve had a chip on our shoulder since the preseason when everyone counted us out,” junior two-meter Matthew Burton said. “We want to go all the way. We want to make sure that every team we play fears us.”