Though not with the sheer dominance it has grown accustomed to, the No. 1 USC men’s water polo team managed to remain undefeated Saturday with a 13-4 victory over Cal Baptist.
In the Trojans’ home opener at McDonald’s Swim Stadium, senior two-meter Matt Burton scored 29 seconds into the match. From start to finish, the Trojans never trailed the Lancers (0-3), and the win improved the the Trojans’ record to 4-0.
Junior driver Nikola Vavic led the way with four goals while Burton notched his first hat trick of the season with three goals of his own.
Despite the lopsided score, USC struggled offensively in comparison to its first three games of the season, in which the team scored 20 or more goals in each.
Errant passes and mistimed shots littered the match, allowing the Division II Lancers to keep the score much closer than the 14-3 score from when the two teams played last year.
“We just have to be a little more patient offensively,” USC coach Jovan Vavic said. “We rushed things, so we need to do a better job finishing on our high-percentage opportunities.”
Burton added another perspective.
“With our training this week, guys are a little bit tired,” he said. “You start seeing guys shoot when they’re low in the water and the ball starts shooting really high [over the net].”
The performances from both of the Trojans’ goalies kept the score a lot lower than it could have been. Sophomore Ely Bonilla made eight saves, deflecting away many a shot from the Lancers’ primary offensive weapon, Scott Gleason.
Gleason finished with a hat trick, but the swarming Trojan defense limited the rest of the Lancers to just one goal.
Cal Baptist keeper Austen Ramer finished with six saves of his own between the pipes.
A slow start saw the Trojans leading just 2-1 until the final minute of the first quarter, where a goal by sophomore driver Jack Plaga gave USC a 3-1 lead. A flurry of three goals in less than two minutes in the second quarter extended the lead to 6-1. Two goals in a row by the Lancers cut the lead to 8-4 toward the end of the third quarter, but the Trojans scored the final five goals to close out the match.
The Trojans travel north next weekend for the NorCal Tournament, hosted by Stanford. The Trojans took home the tournament title last year with a 10-8 victory over UCLA in the final game.