The word “relief” was a common refrain when the No. 2 USC men’s water polo team (16-2) reviewed last Sunday’s hard-fought victory against UC Santa Barbara. Able to quash its losing streak at a modest two games, the Trojans set out anew Saturday, hoping to begin their next winning streak. The team will host No. 7 Pacific (12-6) at 2 p.m., followed by a quick turnaround nonconference game against Concordia (9-9) at 3:30 p.m. in the same afternoon.
Although No. 3 UCLA looms on the horizon, USC coach Jovan Vavic and his players know better than to overlook a talented Pacific team. After all, the Trojans might have been guilty of overlooking Stanford when anticipating the upcoming game against then-No. 2 Cal. As is well-known at this point, the Trojans wound up losing both games.
“We always take it one game at a time,” said sophomore driver Michael Rosenthal. “Especially with the two losses we have this season, we know that every single game is important. It’s not just about winning but also about improving every week.”
Vavic also summarily dismissed the notion that his players might overlook these two teams.
“I’m not even thinking about UCLA right now,” Vavic said. “Pacific is a very, very dangerous team. They have strong two-meter players, great outside shooting and a very good goalie.”
Concordia does not pose as much of a threat to the heavyweight Trojans. But as with any underdog, if Concordia is imbued with the sense early that it can win the game, it might just hang in long enough to steal a win.
“Concordia has a pretty good team,” said junior goalie Joel Dennerley. “They have a lot of experienced older guys who we’re looking out for, as well as several dangerous shooters.”
One issue Vavic has addressed in this week’s practices is his team’s relative silence when playing. The always vociferous and animated coach expressed a concern that his team’s defense is not communicating well enough, leading to some occasional breakdowns in coverage.
“We have a very quiet team and that’s their nature,” Vavic said. “Many of our guys are just not very vocal, and that’s not good for your defense. You need to yell and communicate to your teammates.”
Ultimately, the Trojans will have the superior talent in the pool this weekend. But mental lapses and an inability to execute could be the determining factors between a win and a loss.
If the team’s win against UC Santa Barbara is any indication, the Trojans will take nothing for granted this weekend.