The Vavic family has often been referred to as “the first family of water polo,” and the accuracy of that title was further cemented this weekend.
Senior driver Nikola Vavic entered Sunday’s final day of the SoCal Tournament just one goal away from taking over as USC’s all-time scoring leader, a title held by Juraj Zatovic, who amassed an incredible 220 goals over the course of his four years as a Trojan from 2002 to 2005.
He took the all-time lead in the Trojans victory over the University of the Pacific on Sunday, which also put USC in the championship game late Sunday night.
Vavic moved from 215 to 220 goals on the opening day of tournament play, which saw the Trojans win two games in impressive fashion against two ranked opponents.
In the first game, USC was matched up against St. Francis Brooklyn, which entered the tournament as the No. 16-ranked team in the nation. Junior driver Kostas Genidounias led the Trojans with three goals, but was only one of four Trojans who finished the game with multiple goals. Senior goalie James Clark and redshirt junior goalie Paul Mitre shared time in the cage, and both were impressive, holding the Terriers to just four goals on the day.
Following their 13-4 victory, USC took down another ranked opponent, this time No. 7-ranked Long Beach State, to earn a spot in the semifinals on Sunday. Clark was again dominant in goal, holding the 49ers to just two goals through the first three quarters. Redshirt sophomore Aleck Ryner finished off the game, and the Trojans won handily by a margin of 14-7.
Vavic scored two goals against St. Francis Brooklyn and collected a hat trick in the second game.
The semifinals meeting between USC and Pacific was the first of two games the schools are set to play this season, as the teams are scheduled to play in early November in Stockton, Calif. Pacific, which had to beat Santa Clara and UC Santa Barbara for the right to play USC in the semifinal, put up a valiant fight before eventually falling 10-6.
In last season’s SoCal Tournament, the Trojans knocked off UC Irvine in the semifinals and UC Santa Barbara in the finals to earn their ninth SoCal Tournament championship in 10 years. USC finished fourth in the tournament in 2011.
Pacific entered the match ranked No. 3 in the nation, with just one loss to date, making it an impressive win for the Trojans. USC put up five goals in the second quarter after trailing in the first and never looked back, finishing off the Tigers and clinching a spot in the championship game against the crosstown rival UCLA Bruins.
The two teams have historically been ranked among the best water polo programs in the nation, and always seem to have very comparable squads. Last year’s NCAA championship saw the Trojans win in dramatic 10-9 fashion over the Bruins, a game that was very similar to the 9-8 loss in the NorCal finals just two weeks ago.
In that game, Vavic was held to just one goal, but the Rancho Palos Verdes native has been a stalwart for the Trojans and USC head coach Jovan Vavic since the day he arrived on campus. As a freshman, Nikola led USC in scoring with 49 goals and scored in all but three games that year. In his sophomore season, Vavic was second on the team with 41 goals. Vavic exploded for a team-high 83 goals last season, and is on pace to eclipse that mark this season.
When the pressure has been at its highest, Vavic has earned a reputation for stepping his game up. He has been on the NCAA All-Tournament team every year as a Trojan, and scored a hat trick in the championship game as a freshman. Vavic has been a crucial part of USC’s record-setting five straight national championships, and will need to have another big year if the Trojans are to win a sixth straight this year.
In his historic junior season, Vavic was honored as a first-team All-American and was a first-team selection on the All-Mountain Pacific Sports Federation team. Vavic was also named a finalist for the Peter J. Cutino Award, an honor given to the nation’s best player.
Adding to his list of accomplishments, Vavic has represented USC internationally as well, competing as a member of the U.S. National Team at the UANA World Aquatic Championship Qualification Tournament. Additionally, he was the third leading scorer at the 2009 FINA Men’s Junior World Championships.
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