After defeating No. 9-ranked UC Irvine 18-7 last Saturday to start the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation schedule undefeated, the No. 2-ranked Trojans head south to play in the SoCal Tournament hosted by the Anteaters. The Trojans look to avenge their NorCal title game defeat at the hands of UCLA by winning their 10th SoCal crown in past 11 years.
If USC (13-1) is able to win it all, they would most likely regain their No. 1 ranking that had been with them since 2011 before the Bruins stripped them of it. Ever since losing to UCLA, the team has had a three-game winning streak and won each of those games by an average of almost 17 goals.
“It has definitely put a little fire in our bellies,” said senior two-meter Connor Virjee.
The SoCal Tournament features top-notch competition from across the nation with 16 of the nation’s top teams participating, including all nine MPSF teams, so USC is looking to make a splash not only nationally, but also within their own conference.
The majority of the 16-team field is from California, with the exception being St. Francis Brooklyn, who is making the cross-country trip from New York. Non-MPSF teams participating include teams that USC has already handily beaten such as Loyola Marymount, Pomona-Pitzer and UC San Diego.
“SoCal is always filled with good games and I’m looking forward to the healthy competition,” Virjee said.
The Trojans will open up the tournament against No. 16-ranked St. Francis Brooklyn in an 8 a.m. match on Saturday at Corona del Mar High School. Should they notch a win against the Terriers, they will then face the winner of the morning’s No. 7 Long Beach State vs. No. 10 Loyola Marymount game at 2 p.m. With another win there, they will move onto the semifinals on Sunday at UC Irvine.
Last year, the Trojans started off on a high note against St. Francis Brooklyn, defeating them 15-4 before going on to take down Pacific 9-4 to move on to the semifinals. Once there, the Trojans defeated UC Irvine 10-5 before taking home the tournament title with a 14-5 win over UC Santa Barbara.
This weekend, the team will have to focus on retaining solid defense for all four quarters, regardless of the score.
“This week, we have really been working on how we are going to defend each of out opponents,” senior driver Kostas Genidounias said. “We have some games that we start really well like against UC Irvine and then we lose our focus and allow easy goals on defense so we are definitely going to work on maintaining our focus for the entire game.”
This weekend could also be a milestone for senior Nikola Vavic, who enters the tourney just six goals away from becoming USC’s all-time top scorer. He entered the 2013 season ranked No. 4 all-time in school history, but in just 14 games of work, has netted 42 goals to give him 215 career goals.
Vavic looks to surpass Juraj Zatovic’s 220 goal mark that he achieved in his four years at USC.
“Nikola knows how to put the ball in the cage, but sooner or later, he will [break the record],“ Genidounias said.
A strong performance and a tournament title will give the Trojans a good amount of momentum heading into the rest of MPSF play.
“We’re going to go into this tournament really focused on winning all of our games so that we can get that groove going,” Genidounias said.
They return home to the Uytengsu Aquatics Center the following weekend (Oct. 19) to take on non-MPSF opponents Loyola Marymount and Cal Lutheran.
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