On Saturday, the No. 2 USC men’s water polo team (18-2) did what is expected of championship-caliber teams: play fiercely even against weaker opposition.
Improving their win streak to three games, the Trojans eked out a 9-8 win against an improved No. 7 Pacific (12-7) team, before thrashing Concordia (11-12) 15-7.
Entering the Pacific match, the Trojans were seeking to improve an underwhelming 2-2 Montain Pacific Sports Federation conference record that belied a sterling overall record. Although the Trojans never trailed, they were also never able to establish a comfortable lead.
With two minutes remaining in the game, the teams were tied at eight goals apiece. In its next possession, USC looked to two of its primary offensive leaders all season to secure a victory. After freshman two-meter Jeremy Davie drew an ejection, USC capitalized on its 6-5 advantage as junior driver Peter Kurzeka tallied the game-winning goal with 1:26 left.
True to form, USC never took Pacific lightly. Following the game, USC coach Jovan Vavic complimented Pacific, expressing no dismay that his team only managed a one-goal margin of victory.
“Every time we scored a goal, they did a good job of not giving up. They came back and had a good plan of how to attack us,” Vavic said. “They played better defense than what they have done in years past.”
The quick turnaround game against Concordia was not as tight an affair, but it still presented a conditioning test for the Trojans and allowed Vavic to insert some players into the lineup who have not logged many minutes this season.
“There were two players who really impressed me, [freshmen two-meters Max] Hurst-Mendoza and [Connor] Virjee,” Vavic said. “Virjee played really well, scored two big goals when we needed them. Max drew three ejections and scored two goals, which is awesome.”
Junior two-meter Matt Burton, who scored two goals this weekend, said his team should be proud of its performance — especially because the offense received contributions from a plethora of players, with eight different goal scorers against Pacific and 10 against Concordia.
“Concordia definitely has the talent to be a top-tier team, but fortunately for us, they didn’t really show up,” Burton said. “We got off to an early lead and just coasted from there.”
Unfortunately, the Trojans do not have much time to savor these victories, as No. 3 UCLA will invade McDonald’s Swim Stadium next weekend. Not only is national seeding at stake but also confidence entering the postseason. To win next weekend, Burton believes the team’s defense needs to improve.
“Defense has been an area of struggle over pretty much the entire year,” Burton said. “If you look at past teams that have won national championships here, you’ll notice that they kept teams to about five goals per game. Right now, we’re giving up about nine or 10 goals per game. That’s unacceptable for a USC team that wants to win a championship.”