Its 13-game winning streak might be snapped, but the No. 1 USC men’s water polo team is still the No. 1 seed in December’s NCAA tournament.
The Trojans (22-3, 8-0) were narrowly defeated this weekend in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation tournament by No. 3 UCLA in the finals, losing an automatic bid to the NCAA championship.
Regardless, the Trojans will join UCLA (23-4, 6-2) at the NCAAs, where the Bruins earned a slot as the No. 2 seed. UC San Diego was named the No. 3 seed, and Princeton the No. 4.
“The game against UCLA was meaningless for us,” said USC coach Jovan Vavic. “We knew that we were going to be ranked No. 1 in the conference. UCLA was fighting for its life because if it hadn’t won the game they probably wouldn’t have gone to NCAAs.”
The MPSF tournament started off on a high note for the Trojans as they defeated No. 8 Pacific for the second time this season, 11-7, in their first game. USC struggled in the first period, however, trailing 6-5 as the half rolled around. The Trojans came back from the break scoring six unanswered goals, and shutting out the Tigers in the third period.
Following their win against Pacific, the Trojans faced No. 4 Stanford in the semifinal game of the MPSF tournament. The Cardinal did not give way easily to the USC team, starting off the game with a 4-0 lead, and then kept the score to their advantage at 6-4 entering the fourth quarter.
It was there that the Trojan offense fought back and the efforts of senior goalie Joel Dennerley kept all Stanford shots out of the net. Two goals from sophomore two-meter Jeremy Davie, who also earned a hat trick in the game, and one apiece from freshman driver Kostas Genidounias and sophomore driver Nikola Vavic in the second half secured USC a trip to the final round of the tournament.
“Those three boys, two sophomores and a freshman, really stepped up,” Jovan Vavic said.
Nikola Vavic scored seven goals in total for the Trojans in the tournament, and Davie scored five.
Both games, against Pacific and Stanford, saw a valiant effort from USC in the second half, but cause for concern in the opening period.
“In the beginning of the game we rotate more players so we don’t necessarily play our best players — we play more players,” Vavic said. “When you do that you water down your offensive power because you are splitting into two teams. In the fourth quarter we end up wearing the other team down.”
In the MPSF championship game, however, the Trojans could not wear down the Bruins and lost in sudden death, 10-9. Vavic still expressed his happiness in what the team got out of the tournament.
“The most important part of the tournament was to find out which players we could count on, which were ready to play and which players were not,” Vavic said. “We learned we can certainly count on all of our players. They are all ready.”
USC overcame an early 5-1 scoring deficit in the UCLA game, tying the contest 5-5 in the third quarter. The Trojans then came out of a 7-5 hole in the fourth period, forcing overtime with the score tied at 7-7.
With two shots from UCLA matched by goals from Davie and senior driver Peter Kurzeka, the game went into sudden death. Redshirt junior driver Michael Rosenthal set up USC for the first possession but an offensive foul gave UCLA the ball instead, and Cristiano Mirarchi would deliver the winning goal for the Bruins.
The loss, USC’s first since defeat at the hands of Stanford and UCLA at the SoCal tournament in October, marked the end of a winning streak but not the end of the road. The NCAA tournament is set to take place Dec. 3-4 in Berkeley, Calif.
“We are very excited,” Vavic said. “This has been a great year. We have had great chemistry, our guys are really excited and we have good leadership.”