The Trojans quickly dispelled any Long Beach State hopes of stealing an upset by jumping out to a 6-1 lead at the end of the first quarter on Saturday. From there, the No. 2 USC men’s water polo team (22-2, 5-2) would cruise to a 10-4 shellacking of the 49ers.
It is apparent that a team has championship aspirations when even its wins against ranked opponents are highly critiqued. Such was the case Thursday when No. 10 Pepperdine almost stunned USC in front of its home crowd, losing narrowly 7-6. After USC’s most impressive performance of the season against then-No. 3 UCLA two weeks ago, the Trojans did not beat Pepperdine all too convincingly. USC coach Jovan Vavic cited the pitfalls of fielding a young team as to why the Trojans sometimes do not play at a level more equal to their talent.
Aiming to avoid subsequent underwhelming performances, the Trojans rattled off five unanswered goals in the first quarter on Saturday against a struggling Long Beach State team that, although ranked No. 9, has now lost seven consecutive games and 10 of 11. A swarming defense from the outset was the primary reason for USC’s early success.
“At the beginning of the game, we did a good job of denying the ball to their biggest threats, which are [their two-meters Nick] Rascon and [Taylor] Clute,” Vavic said. “We intercepted some of their passes, which created opportunities for us on the counterattack.”
The Trojans, as is a staple of their team, received scoring contributions from seven different players, with freshman driver Nikola Vavic registering a hat-trick and redshirt sophomore driver Michael Rosenthal chipping in two tallies.
“Individually, Peter Kurzeka had a good game,” Jovan Vavic said. “Rosenthal played well; he scored a couple of goals for us. Nikola played well defensively and offensively. Our two-meter men also did well in drawing ejections.”
Perhaps what was most impressive was something that will not appear in a box score: the Trojans’ refusal to retaliate when battered by frustrated Long Beach State players. After the first quarter, the 49ers became testy following continually stout Trojan defensive stands. An auspicious development for the Trojans was their ability to persevere and simply allow the referees to officiate.
“Defensively, we played tough,” Jovan Vavic said. “Long Beach was very physical. I think the game was a little too physical, as a matter of fact. But our guys were able to take more than one punch without responding. In the end, I think our composure was the difference — we stayed cool.”
The Trojans, third in the MPSF standings, have the same 5-2 record in conference play as UCLA but owns the tiebreaker with its win over the Bruins, meaning if USC beats No. 5 UC Irvine this weekend, the team is assured of at least a third-place finish. To finish second, however, No. 3 Stanford will have to lose to both Pacific and California to round out its conference schedule.
Next on the docket for USC is an exhibition match against a Canadian national water polo team that finished 11th in the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing. The game will be played Wednesday at 5 p.m. in McDonald’s Swim Stadium.
“It’s a game that will help us prepare for the conference tournament,” Jovan Vavic said. “Canada is a team on the rise, so it’s a great opportunity for us to get practice, and it’s exciting for our team.”