Trojans begin conference play with win

UC Irvine goalie Jimmy Friedrich knew what to expect, but couldn’t do enough to stop the Trojans from handing the Anteaters a 7-4 loss Saturday.

Friedrich played for USC (6-0, 1-0) for three years as an undergraduate, and despite 14 saves on Saturday, the No. 1 USC men’s water polo team proved too much once again. The Trojans previously bested the Anteaters 11-4 in the NorCal tournament last weekend.

USC kicked off the match with three quick goals in the opening minutes of play. The Anteaters, however, were not deterred, as Friedrich did just enough to keep the USC offense at bay.

“I think our defense was fine,” senior driver Peter Kurzeka said. “We held them to four goals. However, our offense struggled. We failed to put away some shots early.”

Despite being denied an early lead, the Anteaters battled back, trailing 4-2 at halftime. They would cut it to a one-goal game after an early goal in the opening moments of the second half. But the USC offense was jumpstarted by the play of Kurzeka, who scored two goals and notched two assists at critical moments in the game.

Goals from redshirt sophomore driver Stephen Siri and junior drivers Forest Monroe and Michael Rosenthal helped USC pull away from UC Irvine.

“It was a low scoring first half,” Kurzeka said. “Both of our teams are defensive[ly] minded and they wanted to stop our counter attack. And obviously we want to hold them to as few goals as possible. If we don’t take our chances early then they stick around.”

Part of the reason UC Irvine was able to keep the game close was its familiarity with USC’s game plan.

“They definitely scouted us better,” Rosenthal said. “They knew some of our center plays better and thought of ways to attack us differently. They came out with a lot of energy. We have a target on our back because we are three-time defending champions.”

USC coach Jovan Vavic had his own explanation as to why the Anteaters were able to keep it close for most of the match.

“Our team was a little more tired this game because we trained pretty hard, and UCI looked more rested,” Vavic said. “Last time we played Irvine they had a very tough game against Long Beach before we played them, so we got them tired. [This time] our defense was good, and we only gave up four goals. Offensively, we could have done a better job but I think it was because we were tired.”

After its victory over UC Irvine, USC defeated Golden West 10-8 in a scrimmage, giving some of the younger players an opportunity to play.

“It’s definitely a good experience for those guys,” Rosenthal said. “Golden West is not a shabby team at all. They came out, got a win and those guys don’t always get a lot of minutes, so it’s good they got minutes in that game.”

USC continues play on Thursday, facing Princeton at 7 p.m. at McDonald’s Swim Stadium.