Top-ranked Trojans look to stay perfect

USC men’s water polo coach Jovan Vavic has never lost to UC Santa Barbara during his tenure: Thirty-two matches against the Gauchos have resulted in 32 Trojan victories

The No. 1 Trojans (20-0, 5-0) will look to keep that streak as well as their undefeated season alive this weekend, when they host the No. 3 Gauchos (15-6, 1-3) for a Mountain Pacific Sports Federation conference match Saturday.

USC and UCLA are the only squads with an undefeated MPSF conference record right now, and are on target to play for the top seed in the conference tournament when USC visits the Bruins for its final regular season game.

Having lost three of four Pac-12 matches, the Gauchos are reeling but will still provide more than just a tune-up for the Bruins match-up in two weeks.

“They [UCSB] have a pretty solid starting six,” Vavic said. “They go to their two-meter men a lot so we need to adjust our defense to keep them covered.”

The team is pretty straight forward about their goals for this weekend.

“We want to play to the advantage of the crowd and give them just as much of a romp as last time,” senior two-meter Matt Burton said.

In the team’s previous matchup this season in late September, the Trojans throttled the Gauchos 14-5 at Santa Barbara to win the SoCal tournament.

“Everything went right for us in that game,” sophomore driver Kostas Genidounias said. “We scored every open shot and just started really strong and gave them no hope.”

That game might not be the best indicator of how Saturday’s matchup will play out, though. It was both teams’ fourth game that weekend, and the Gauchos’ fatigue was noticeable in the championship match. Saturday’s game is the only one for both squads this week, and the game flow will be different since USC and UCSB have had all week to prepare for one another.

The tandem of junior driver Nikola Vavic and Genidounias will once again lead an explosive Trojan attack. Genidounias has scored a hat trick in each of his last four games, while the younger Nikola Vavic has scored in every game and leads the team with 57 goals. Vavic’s 57 goals are the most scored in a season by a USC player since 2005.

The Trojans won all three of their games last week, but, perhaps since the Trojans are so dominant in the pool, bad habits continue to linger.

The Trojans defeated Cal Lutheran in their final game of the weekend, but coach Vavic and his team are not pleased with the 21-9 score — specifically with the nine goals allowed.

“We have this tendency that once we get a lead, we lax off in our defense,” Burton said. “We definitely had some holes in our defense last week, but we need to play good, solid defense. That’s what has won us championships in the past, and that’s what’s going to win this year’s championship.”

Jovan Vavic has seen a recurring issue all season that could cost the Trojans down the road.

“We’re not focused in practice, and it carries over into games,” Vavic said.

This year’s squad only has three seniors that are receiving significant playing time, and Jovan Vavic attributed a lack of leadership to USC’s struggles on the defensive end.

“Our guys need to step up in leadership roles,” Jovan Vavic said. “Losing Joel [Dennerley] and Peter [Kurzeka] from last year really hurts because Peter was a great leader and Joel was very local.”

The coach did offer a solution, though.

“We have to do a better job of communicating in the water,” he said. “Guys need to listen.”