After spending their last four weeks in the greater Los Angeles area, the Trojans take to the road this weekend for their season finale at No. 6 UC Irvine.
But despite 17 consecutive victories against the Anteaters, including a 14-10 win during the NorCal Tournament in September, a road win is not guaranteed for the No. 2 USC men’s water polo team (22-2, 5-3).
“[UCI has] played some of the top teams very closely,” said USC coach Jovan Vavic. “They have beaten tough teams. They have a winning record in conference; they’re 4-3 and they’re very dangerous. Their strength is experience, and they’re even more dangerous at home.”
Through eight home games, UC Irvine has posted seven wins, one of the best home records in the country, and in recent weeks, notched a 7-6 win over No. 7 UC Santa Barbara at Anteater Pool.
Despite the aforementioned challenge of winning on the road, however, a win remains crucial for the Trojans’ postseason hopes.
With a victory, USC can sew up the No. 2 seed in next week’s MPSF Tournament provided top-ranked California can defeat Stanford in its regular-season finale Friday.
A loss, though, and the Trojans could stumble all the way to fifth in the conference.
“Absolutely seeding matters,” Vavic said. “It’s a big game for an NCAA at-large berth as well. Every conference game is big, and it’s no different in this one.”
If a win is on the horizon, the Trojans will need production from an offense averaging 13.38 goals per game — the best in the country, yet one that has had its fair share of struggles as of late, with a seven-goal showing as recently as a week ago against Pepperdine.
Yet, Vavic remains unfazed with his unusually young unit.
“Seven goals is not bad, as long as you keep your opponent under six,” said the Trojans’ coach of 16 years. “I’m really not concerned about our offense. I think it has plenty of power to score. We really just need to stay focused.”
In its most recent outing, a 10-4 win over No. 9 Long Beach State, the Trojans showed a glimpse of their offensive capabilities.
Freshman driver Nikola Vavic notched a hat trick, his 12th multi-goal game of the year, while the offense went on a five-goal run in the first half to break up an early 1-1 tie.
Nikola Vavic and fellow freshman two-meter Jeremy Davie have combined for a total of 73 goals on the year, and although 21 players have found the back of the net at least once in 2010, it has been the freshman duo that has largely kept the team afloat.
“Our team is definitely capable,” Jovan Vavic said. “We showed that in the NorCal and SoCal Tournaments we can be really successful.”
But despite USC’s offensive prowess, a strong defensive performance will be necessary against a UC Irvine team that features two of the Pac-10’s best seniors: driver Brandon Johnson and two-meter Griffen Lerman, who have amassed a combined 80 goals on the season.
With a young team, however, it’s tough to overlook a postseason run, which is scheduled to begin with the MPSF Tournament in Palo Alto, Calif., on Nov. 26.
“We have so many young players who have not been in this situation before, so we’re trying to prepare them [for] what these tournaments are going to be like,” Vavic said. “Our focus needs to be at the highest level.”