Coming off a dispiriting weekend with a fourth-place finish at the SoCal Tournament, the Trojans were eager to refocus and put together a complete, four-quarter effort against No. 14 Long Beach State.
No. 4 USC (10-2) posted a dominating performance Thursday, playing smothering, physical defense and amassing a bevy of field blocks while cruising to a 14-3 victory.
In the waning moments of the fourth quarter, a minor skirmish erupted. After a Long Beach State player became entangled with sophomore two-meter Jeremy Davie, the 49er proceeded to punch the Australian in the head twice. Davie, to his credit, resisted the urge to retaliate and quickly disengaged from the frustrated player. Trainers rushed to his aid. As of the end of the match, he was experiencing some mild dizziness.
“We’ve had issues with Long Beach State before,” sophomore driver Nikola Vavic said. “It was kind of obnoxious that, when they’re losing 11-2, they do stuff like that.”
Extracurricular activity aside, the Trojans exhibited why they expect their term as the No. 4 team in the nation to be short-lived. Nine different players found the back of the net, including two-goal games from Nikola Vavic, senior driver Peter Kurzeka, redshirt junior driver Michael Rosenthal, redshirt freshman two-meter Jack Plaga and freshman driver Kostas Genidounias. On the defensive end, when the Trojans’ field players did not block shots, senior goalie Joel Dennerley was customarily strong in net, recording eight saves on the evening.
“To go from No. 1 to No. 4 in the course of one day is pretty hard, so we concentrated on sustaining our attack and we kept them to three goals, which is always good,” sophomore utility Mace Rapsey said.
Rapsey played a particularly strong game, setting the tone in the first quarter not only by scoring with a precise lob shot on the first possession of the game but by recording three steals and drawing an exclusion penalty that led to another Trojan goal.
On a team that sometimes operates so seamlessly that it appears almost robotic, the Trojans came out with more visible intensity in this game, led by USC coach Jovan Vavic who bounded along the sidelines calling defensive schemes and offensive plays.
“He’s generally animated,” Rapsey said. “But he may have seemed a little more [Thursday]than usual.”
Despite the setback at the SoCal tournament, the Trojans showed why their offense is hard to stop at times. Two standout goals, in particular, came in the fourth quarter when redshirt junior two-meter Brian Boswell effectively slam-dunked a ball into the net, while two defenders were draped over him, and sophomore two-meter Connor Virjee fired a laser into the top left corner of the net from long distance.
Certainly, those types of plays were not always executed last weekend.
“A lot of shots didn’t go our way last weekend, and then we got frustrated and got out of our game plan a little bit,” Nikola Vavic said.
USC will continue to bide its time until it gets another crack at Stanford and UCLA. In the meantime, the team knows it must prepare thoroughly for each opponent.
“We need to keep our focus and come together,” Rapsey said. “There are going to be hard times during the season, but you just have to get back on the horse and keep moving forward.”