As the three-time defending NCAA champions, the No. 4 USC men’s water polo team has plenty of reasons to remain optimistic. Despite losing their first two games of the season last weekend, the Trojans, with a bevy of youth and experience, are still in prime position to make a run at a fourth consecutive title.
Perhaps no one, though, has been more pivotal to the Trojans’ most recent run of success than senior goalie Joel Dennerley, last year’s Mountain Pacific Sports Federation Player of the Year, who recently became USC’s all-time career saves leader.
“It’s something special for sure,” Dennerley said of breaking the record. “It’s a great honor.”
Forecasting a bright future for Dennerley, a native of Chester Hill, Australia, has been easy — at least to some degree.
Arriving on campus as a wide-eyed freshman in the summer of 2008, Dennerley has served as the Trojans’ starting goalie throughout his entire tenure with the program. And every season the three-time All-American has been in between the pipes for USC, the team has captured an NCAA title.
In spite of the multitude of hardware, the 6-foot-4 Dennerley insists his college experience expands beyond the pool.
“It’s been great,” Dennerley said. “I’m unbelievably lucky to get this sort of opportunity — coming to a great school and a great water polo program as well. It’s been unforgettable.”
Dennerley, perhaps most notably this season, set the USC career-record for saves, which was 674, during the finals of the NorCal tournament against rival UCLA on Sept. 18 — a game in which the Trojans won 10-8. Notching his 675th save, Dennerley immortalized himself among greats who have played for the Trojans, something that isn’t lost on the native Australian.
“USC has such a great tradition of water polo,” Dennerley said. “Many great players have come through here, and to be among those goalies that have played here in the past and have basically set up the tradition that we have here at USC is a privilege as well.”
Though he has made his mark playing for USC, Dennerley also played on Australia’s national team before coming to the United States to play on the collegiate circuit.
“I still play for Australia, but I was playing for the junior national team and we had the Junior World Championships in Long Beach … so from there [USC coach Jovan Vacic] scouted me and recruited me from there,” Dennerley said. “Then, basically a year later, I was back over.”
Though he is certainly pleased to be a record holder, he is not losing sight of this season and the team as a whole. He has made sure the Trojans keep their eyes on the ultimate prize: another title.
“[We feel] good, you know. We sort of set up goals for ourselves and take each week as a new week,” Dennerley said after a recent 14-4 home victory over Princeton. “We try not to get too far ahead of ourselves, but I think we’re on track.”
At this point in his career, Dennerley does not have a lot left to prove. But for now, he remains content with simply being a good teammate, helping to lead the Trojans to what would be an unprecedented fourth-straight national championship.
“It’s funny,” Dennerley said. “The last season [at USC], you never thought it would come. But here it is, and I think the main thing is still trying to teach the younger players as much as I can, pass on as much information as I can to the new players.”
Having fun, however, doesn’t mean that he and the rest of the team are content with only three titles in three years.
“I think the guys are very hungry,” Dennerley said. “They wanna get back to that national championship. It’s a good vibe amongst the team for sure.”