After a freshman campaign in which driver Nikola Vavic led USC with 49 goals, it was natural to heap lofty expectations on the sophomore. Thus far, the sophomore has tallied 25 goals with only three regular season games remaining and eight games in total if USC should advance to the NCAA finals as it did a year ago.
Though Vavic has not found the back of the net as frequently as he did last season, he is beginning to heat up on the score sheet, too, burying eight goals in his last two games.
With Vavic’s recent scoring surge bolstering the offense, the No. 1 USC men’s water polo team (17-2, 6-0) will look to extend its eight-game winning streak in two matches this weekend. On Friday at the McDonald’s Swim Stadium, the Trojans will host No. 13 Concordia (29-4) at 5 p.m. for its final regular season home game, hoping to close out an undefeated season at home. Saturday, USC will travel up north to face No. 7 Pacific (11-10, 1-4) in an MPSF matchup.
“With Nikola, his goal is usually to pass first and that’s a good thing, but if you always look to pass first, you’re going to miss some good opportunities,” USC coach Jovan Vavic said. “It was good to see in these two games that he was taking shots, and we need him, as the season goes on, to score goals and be a top threat for us.”
Collegiate water polo is notoriously top-heavy, with only a few upsets of top-five programs each season. Despite this reality, Jovan Vavic insists Concordia — a team USC beat 15-7 last season in its first ever match — is underrated and could challenge USC provided the Trojans are not focused.
“Concordia has three good outside shooters and one strong two-meter man,” Jovan Vavic said. “Concordia beat Santa Barbara at Santa Barbara, and they only lost to Pacific by one goal. So Concordia is one of those teams that can surprise you.”
The marquee match-up of the weekend, however, remains the game against Pacific. The Tigers are 1-4 in MPSF play following a gut-wrenching 13-12 overtime loss to powerhouse No. 1 UCLA and a 9-8 upset win over No. 5 Santa Barbara.
“[Pacific and Concordia] are both very similar,” Nikola Vavic said. “Both teams have quite a few European players who are good shooters. Pacific has big strong two-meter men.”
Sophomore attacker Balazs Erdelyi and senior attacker Tom Koning pace Pacific with 45 and 42 goals, respectively. In the cage, Pacific goalie Alex Malkis posts an average of 9.9 saves per game.
Ultimately, USC hopes it continues to peak at the right time, especially in advance of the upcoming titanic match with UCLA.
“It seems to me that every game we’re doing something better than in the game before,” Jovan Vavic said. “Overall, we are clicking at the right time.”