No. 1 USC finishes perfect regular season
The undefeated regular season is complete, but for the No. 1 USC men‚Äôs water polo team, its biggest challenge lies ahead.
The Trojans (24-0, 8-0) used two clutch goals to pull ahead late on Saturday, hanging on to win 10-9 over crosstown rival UCLA (24-3, 6-1) during a rare night game at McDonald‚Äôs Swim Stadium.
‚ÄúWe really didn‚Äôt have any breathing room the whole game,‚ÄĚ senior driver Michael Rosenthal said, ‚Äúbut we came out with a win so that‚Äôs all that matters.‚ÄĚ
Rosenthal‚Äôs hat trick led the scoring effort for the Trojans, while junior driver Nikola Vavic, senior two-meter Matt Burton and junior utility Mace Rapsey added two goals apiece.
‚ÄúHe [Rosenthal] hadn‚Äôt been as aggressive as he should lately, so it was great to see his performance,‚ÄĚ USC coach Jovan Vavic said. ‚ÄúHe‚Äôs got great confidence now.‚ÄĚ
The first half was a back-and-forth affair, with the Trojans breaking away from an early 3-3 tie to take a 6-4 halftime lead. The Trojans made it 7-4 just 22 seconds into the third period with a flip shot from Vavic. But No. 2 UCLA wasn‚Äôt done just yet.
The Bruins scored three straight goals, two of them by leading scorer Paul Reynolds, and tied the match at 7 before Burton got one back for the Trojans before the end of the third.
Then, UCLA got a power-play strike from defender Chris Wendt to even the match and put USC in an unfamiliar position.
For the first time in 15 games, the Trojans were tied in the fourth period. That didn‚Äôt last, as Rosenthal skipped a shot under Rapacz‚Äôs outstretched arm to give the Trojans a 9-8 lead.
‚ÄúI just had to take a shot,‚ÄĚ Rosenthal said. ‚ÄúI looked the goalie off a little bit and put it in.‚ÄĚ
Later in the period, a pinpoint Rosenthal cross and resounding Rapsey strike later, and the Trojans were up 10-8.
‚ÄúIt felt great,‚ÄĚ Rapsey said. ‚ÄúIt was such a good pass so I could just pop it in.‚ÄĚ
UCLA‚Äôs Daniel Lenhart quickly responded to make it 10-9 with 28 seconds left, but the Trojans kept possession for the rest of the contest.
‚ÄúWhen they tied the game, we really had to buckle down and find a way to make sure we got stops most importantly, as well as find a way to score a goal,‚ÄĚ Rosenthal said. ‚ÄúI‚Äôm sure glad we did.‚ÄĚ
Vavic, though pleased, pointed out areas in need of improvement.
‚ÄúWe gave up too many goals,‚ÄĚ Vavic said. ‚ÄúThere were situations where we didn‚Äôt block because our blockers didn‚Äôt cover their space.‚ÄĚ
The win clinches USC‚Äôs regular season conference title, giving it the top seed for the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation championships, where it will face UC Santa Barbara on Friday.