For the second time in less than a month, the No. 1 USC men’s water polo team traveled to Palo Alto and returned home with a victory.
In a nationally televised match on the Pac-12 Network on Saturday morning, the Trojans (15-0, 2-0) used a third-period surge to defeat No. 5 Stanford (6-3, 0-1) by a score of 9-6.
Senior driver Tobias Preuss, in his second week back after missing five weeks to injury, notched his first three goals of the season to lead the Trojans. Junior driver Nikola Vavic contributed two goals.
“This is a huge confidence booster for us,” Preuss said. “The atmosphere was like the NCAA’s, and it showed us that we are the best team in the nation. If we can continue to execute our game plan, it’ll be hard for any team to come close to us.”
A Berlin native and member of the German national team, Preuss had 16 goals for the Trojans last year and was named an All-America Honorable Mention. Prior to that, Preuss scored 29 goals for the Trojans’ 2010 national championship team. Preuss’ breakout performance Saturday made an already potent offensive attack even more difficult to stop.
In their previous matchup in September, the Trojans needed overtime to edge the Cardinal. This time around, the swarming Trojan defense limited Stanford to just four goals through the first three periods. USC never led by fewer than three goals during the final period.
“We pressed them hard in the first few possessions, countered them out and pushed Stanford to have to take shots outside of where they’re used to attacking,” Preuss said.
In the third quarter, junior utility Mace Rapsey made it 6-4 just 21 seconds after the Cardinal pulled to within one goal, and goals from senior driver Michael Rosenthal and Preuss put the Trojans up 8-4 by the end of the third period.
The flurry of goals in the third quarter highlighted one of the best periods the Trojans have played all season and showed their improvement in capitalizing on offensive chances, not letting scoring opportunities go by the wayside.
“We knew their goalie was weak on lateral movement, so we didn’t just take the first open shot we had,” senior two-meter Matt Burton said. “We were patient with our offense and made the right passes. What really sets us apart is how great of shape our guys are in. Teams get tired in the second half, but as the game progresses, we get faster. Stanford’s six starters played most of the first half, and we tired them out then in order to put us in really, really good shape for the second half.”
The Trojans are the top-scoring team in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation, and their offensive prowess made life difficult all day for Stanford goalie Scott Platshon. Though he made 16 saves, Platshon, in his first year as full-time starter, had to be on full alert all day against the calculated Trojan attack.
Junior James Clark received the start in goal and made nine saves for the Trojans. After playing in the Olympics on the Australian national team and arriving late to USC as a result, Clark is receiving more playing time in goal as the season progresses.
Sophomore Ely Bonilla primarily manned the goal for the first third of the season, but now Clark and Bonilla form a two-headed monster.
“My hat goes off to James Clark,” Preuss said. “It’s really great that we have two great goalies to throw out there.”
Stanford scored to open the final period, but Preuss completed his hat trick soon after to make it 9-5. The four-goal deficit proved too much for the Cardinal to overcome.
“We won the game because we controlled possession,” USC coach Jovan Vavic said. “Our biggest improvement was in our counterattack. We took the shots their goalie gave us, and Toby [Preuss] was the difference-maker by scoring two huge goals in the third quarter.”