Undefeated season still within reach

With postseason play right around the corner, the USC men’s water polo team hopes to continue on its course toward another run at a NCAA championship. With an undefeated season in progress, the team will take on two opponents this weekend: nonleague foe Concordia and No. 4 Pepperdine.

“We still have to remain focused,” USC coach Jovan Vavic said of the team being so close to the finish line. “We have games this weekend that we could easily lose if we don’t stay focused on the task at hand.”

In Concordia, USC faces after losing three of its last four matches and is entering McDonald’s Swim Stadium with little momentum. The school’s most recent game was a 21-7 loss to No. 2 UCLA, which spells trouble given the Trojans’ talent and recent history of success against the Bruins.

“They have a few individual players with real talent,” Vavic said. “They’re going to test us. You can’t overlook anybody because that’s when bad things happen.”

Concordia’s roster is full of international players, which can often present problems. Many European players grow up loving water polo, and though the sport does not have a strong following in the United States, this familiarity with the game puts USC’s players at an initial disadvantage.

“European players often come with more experience,” senior driver Michael Rosenthal said. “They watch professional water polo a lot, so they usually come over with some tricks. It’s definitely an eye-opener when you see a roster full of players from Europe.”

Following the game against Concordia, USC will once again hit the road, this time for a short trip to visit Malibu and take on Pepperdine. Pepperdine, the fourth-ranked team in the country, is also reeling, having lost two of their last three games to tough teams UCLA and No. 4 California. Having already beaten the Waves before, USC knows what to expect in trying to stop their attack.

“We’re always prepared for them,” junior utility Mace Rapsey said. “They have a big team with some good center forwards that their play is based around.”

Pepperdine is driven by senior attackers Matthew DeTrane and Stephen Loomis, who led the team in scoring but were held to only three goals combined in Pepperdine’s NorCal tournament loss to the Trojans. Vavic expects more out of them this weekend.

“They like to run plays for their big guys in the post, especially [DeTrane],” Vavic said. “It’s going to be up to our back line to communicate and not let him get easy touches.”

With the team on the verge of the postseason, the players know that their focus is crucial now more than ever. One slip up during this point in the season could ruin everything the players and coaches set out to do. But the team is confident that their routine will eliminate the chances of a debacle.

“We’re always prepared,” Rapsey said. “[Pepperdine] has a bigger team with some good center forwards that their play is based around. We know their team pretty well, and we’re going to prepare in every way possible to take them down.”