No. 1 USC hosts No. 4 Golden Bears
After an impressive showing in the NorCal Invitational, the USC menâs water polo team returns home this weekend to face California in the Trojansâ first game in Mountain Pacific Sports Federation play. The Golden Bears, who also participated in the NorCal Invitational, are coming off two tough losses to UCLA and Stanford.
âAny time we play Cal itâs an exciting game,â USC coach Jovan Vavic said. âWe just know that all these games will come down to one or two plays, so we cannot relax.â
The main challenge the team faces against Cal is its attacking duo of Collin Smith and Aleksa Saponjic. In nine games this season, Smith, a junior, has already scored 29 goals. Saponjic, who won a bronze medal at the 2012 London Olympics with Serbia, scored 30 goals as a freshman last season.
âWe need to be aware of where those guys are,â Vavic said. âThey create so many opportunities, so our whole team needs to be aware. They are their biggest weapons.â
Smith and Saponjic lead a Golden Bears attack that is the most dangerous in fast-break situations. With speed on the outside, they are capable of scoring goals in bunches, which is something the entire USC defense is focused on stopping.
âOur challenge is going to be stopping them in the counter attack and making sure we anticipate early and get back on defense,â senior two-meter Matt Burton said. âThey have some guys with blinding speed, so thatâs going to be our main focus.â
In last seasonâs only meeting between the two teams, USC won 9-8 in sudden death overtime at Berkeley, a key victory that contributed greatly to the teamâs postseason success and dashed Calâs hopes at unseating the Trojans. Coming into this game, the team is fully aware that the Golden Bears are hungry to return the favor.
âIâm sure that they are going to come in with a chip on their shoulder, given the intensity of last yearâs game,â Burton said. âWeâll be prepared for this game. We always are.â
Given how well the team played this past weekend, though, coach Vavic is very confident in his teamâs ability to slow down the Bearsâ attack.
âWe have done a good job at stopping our opponent when we needed to get a stop,â Vavic said. âOur half court defense and 5-on-6 defense have been pretty consistent.â
USCâs two goalies, sophomore Ely Bonilla and junior James Clark, have played extremely well thus far, allowing an average of 4.25 goals per game between the two of them. Clark, in his first year with the program, knows full well the challenge that Cal presents in such aÂ young season.
âThey play a physical game that will be tough to overcome,â Clark said. âIt wonât be easy this weekend.â
Sundayâs game begins at 1 p.m. at McDonaldâs Swim Stadium. It will also be televised on ESPNU.