Trojans look to rebound against Gauchos
By its own standards, USC is reeling.
For the first time since 2007 the No. 2 USC menâs water polo team (15-2, 1-2) has lost consecutive conference games and now appears more than just beatable.
âI think we have gone away from our fundamentals,â USC coach Jovan Vavic said. âWe are thinking ahead and we are not doing what weâve done well all season.â
But a Sunday showdown with No. 6 UC Santa Barbara might provide the Trojans with an opportunity to address a majority of the issues plaguing the youthful bunch.
âI think we are going to have a good game,â Vavic said. âWe had a good week of training so far, and I feel good about the way the guys practiced. They were in the meeting room and really did a good job of listening.â
In spite of Vavicâs optimism, however, recent results have exposed many of the problems threatening the previously undefeated Trojansâ hopes of swiftly navigating the regular season and earning yet another NCAA title at the yearâs conclusion.
Against Stanford, the team was hampered by poor shooting and an inopportune offense â except for freshmen two-meter Jeremy Davie and driver Nikola Vavic, who combined for three goals, the team was held scoreless.
âWhen you are passing and shooting, itâs all about the execution and fundamental skills,â Jovan Vavic said. âWe have rushed passes, and we have rushed shots. So we just have to relax, focus and do the little things.â
A week later, a matchup with Mountain Pacific Sports Federation rival California marked improvement on the offensive end, but defensive miscues prevented Vavicâs bunch from putting themselves in a position to win, as the Trojans trailed 5-0 early in the first period.
âWe made so many defensive errors,â Vavic said. âItâs really very frustrating because we are a better team than that. But the teams are figuring us out. Theyâre developing gameplans to stop us and we have to become much more defensively aware.â
As anticipated for a group that lost nine seniors from the back-to-back championship team of 2009, youth has become a serious issue.
âThe biggest thing is that our starting unit has Davie, [Stephen] Siri, Nikola [Vavic], and Tobias [Preuss] â all four new players. All freshmen,â Vavic said. âAnd well, theyâre making mistakes. I think in the beginning of the season we did not make those mistakes.â
In Sundayâs contest against the No. 6 Gauchos, the Trojans wonât be afforded many second chances, as UC Santa Barbara holds one of the toughest defensive units in the nation, featuring goalkeeper Myles Christian, who allows just 6.7 goals per game.
âSanta Barbara, in my opinion, is one of the best teams in the country,â Vavic said. âTheyâre strong and have very good kids. They are right behind us in terms of team defense this year.â
And based on previous results, the Trojans know how challenging an opportunity the Gauchos will be.
Earlier this month, the Trojans faced UC Santa Barbara in the semifinals of the SoCal Tournament, and after a strong opening frame, built a 4-0 lead before watching it crumble after five unanswered goals from the Gauchos. Eventually, a 7-6 win was secured by the Trojans but strong play on behalf of UC Santa Barbara certainly left an impression.
âThey played well,â Vavic said. âThey have quite a few experienced foreign players and are really tough.â
But that hasnât halted any sort of optimism heading into Sundayâs contest.
âThey do have good shooters and are a good team overall, but I feel much more confidence this week than I did last week,â Vavic said.