As the saying goes, there is no rest for the weary and so it is that the No. 1 USC men’s water polo team will have little rest this weekend as it plays five games in three days.
“Every game is crucial,” USC coach Jovan Vavic said. “It’s all about being ready, not just for one game but for all of the games. It’s important to stay focused throughout all those games.”
The Trojans’ gauntlet of matches begins on Friday with a home game against No. 16 Princeton at McDonald’s Swim Stadium.
The two teams met twice last season, with USC (9-0, 1-0) winning each contest 13-4 and 17-4, the latter game coming in the NCAA tournament to knock Princeton out of contention for the national championship.
“They are always fired up to play us,” sophomore two-meter Jack Plaga said. “We just have to stay strong and wear them down.”
Princeton (7-4, 2-1) is known for its wide variety of defenses and unusual strategies, which is something that the Trojans are well aware of and are working hard to prepare against.
“Their coach comes up with a lot of trick plays,” senior two-meter Matt Burton said. “There’s always that element of waiting for a surprise; things where guys are diving under the water, things we’ve never really seen before.”
Trick plays and gimmicks are not unusual to USC. Because of its athletic superiority and historic run of success, lower-ranked teams often resort to these tactics in the absence of being able to compete “traditionally” with the Trojans.
“It’s smart by them to a certain degree,” Burton said. “They know that they might not be as fast or strong as we are, but they can outsmart us with trick plays and stuff like that so we have to be prepared.”
Vavic is confident that the team will be well prepared for any of the Tigers’ attempts at fooling the Trojans.
“Princeton is a fairly young team, and they like to play interesting defenses with different kinds of subs and splits,” Vavic said. “We are going to prepare for them and anticipate some of those different defenses. We are a little more experienced [than their players], and I think we will be OK.”
After facing Princeton on Friday, USC will hit the road to Santa Barbara for the SoCal tournament.
The team will begin its quest to avenge last season’s disappointing fourth place finish in the tournament with a game against St. Francis (N.Y.) on Saturday.
In last season’s tournament, USC lost in the semifinals to Stanford and then to UCLA in the third place game.
“Last year, we screwed up big twice,” Burton said. “Back-to-back losses are something that never happens here, so we have to make sure that we don’t take any opponent lightly because on any given day we can be beat.”
The Trojans will have a chance to avenge last season’s disappointment, as both UCLA and Stanford are in the field this year.
As each team is also a fellow member of the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation, a potential matchup in a prestigious tournament would have substantial ramifications on a possible future NCAA tournament berth.
“Only two teams from our conference are going to make the NCAA tournament, so everything is crucial,” Vavic said. “You cannot afford to suffer a big loss because losing to a team that is not from our conference can be an absolute killer. We take every game extremely seriously.”
Though the team will have little time to rest between games, the players seem to be unconcerned with the possibility of tiring out by the end of the tournament.
“Tournaments are always tough,” Burton said. “You’re playing two games in one day and you could easily get very tired. But this usually works to our benefit because we are very well conditioned.”
Friday’s home game against Princeton will be at McDonald’s Swim Stadium at noon.