For now, a sense of normalcy has returned for the No. 2 USC men’s water polo.
Following a narrow 9-8 win at then-No. 2 California on Saturday, the Trojans climbed from No. 4 to No. 2 in the polls.
Riding a three-game winning streak, USC (12-2, 3-0) hopes to continue its upward climb as it faces No. 5 UC Santa Barbara at McDonald’s Swim Stadium at noon Sunday.
“It’s good to move up in the ranks for sure,” senior goalie Joel Dennerley said. “We would like to be number one, but at this point in the season it doesn’t matter; we just hope to be there by the end of the year.”
This game will be the first time the Gauchos (12-6, 0-1) face the Trojans this season. The two teams, however, are familiar foes. USC has a 59-12-2 all-time record against UC Santa Barbara and has won the last 41 games against the Gauchos, including three wins last season by scores of 7-6, 13-9 and 10-2.
Regardless of the winning streak, the Trojans insist they’re not overlooking anyone.
“From past experience, they’re a tough team,” Dennerley said. “They have some dangerous lefties who are pretty good shooters, they have a pretty good goalie and a couple of experienced shooters. At their pool they are going to be fired up to play us and they are going to take it to us in every area so we need to be ready.”
Though it is keeping an eye on the competition, USC has proven to be a tough team to beat this season in its own right. The Trojans have outscored its opponents 171-65 and hold the top defensive record in the conference with an average of 4.6 goals-against per game.
“We’d like the defensive end to keep it below four goals a game,” Dennerley said. “A few of the tough games we give up more goals and that’s not ideal. Offensively, we are producing solid amounts of goals and we hope to continue that throughout the season.”
Now three games removed from their two back-to-back losses in the SoCal tournament, the Trojans have had time to improve and build back their confidence.
“We played with a good amount of excitement and we played a team game [against Cal],” senior driver Peter Kurzeka said. “We have two losses and all these other teams have three, so I think we are in a good place.”
The victory against Cal, which won sophomore driver Jeremy Davie his first MPSF Player of the Week honors, proved valuable in keeping the Trojans’ momentum alive.
“[Winning MPSF Player of the Week] was pretty cool, I haven’t done that before,” Davie said. “I’m pretty honored with it, especially after the caliber of players on our team that have won it before. To be recognized with them is pretty sweet.”
With the harrowing victory against the Golden Bears behind them, the Trojans will face off against the Gauchos, looking to improve upon their newly formed three-game winning streak and reach the top of the rankings once again.
“We showed great desire towards the end of game against Cal to seal a victory, so hopefully the boys continue that on Sunday,” Dennerley said.