The No. 2-ranked Trojans will host No. 4 Stanford and No. 8 Long Beach State in their final two home games of the season before moving on to postseason play.
While the College GameDay crew features the Trojans vs. Cardinal football contest on the other side of campus on Saturday, the two teams will collide in the pool in a high-stakes matchup that boasts Mountain Pacific Sports Federation tournament seeding implications.
The Trojans (22-2, 4-1 MPSF) took care of business last weekend in conference play, as they came back to win 11-9 on the road against Cal before coming home and handily defeating Pepperdine 13-3.
The Trojans, however, felt that they could have played better defensively over the weekend.
“We felt like we allowed too many goals against Cal,” said junior driver Kostas Genidounias, who was given the honor of MPSF Player of the Week for the second time. “But we came back and allowed only three against Pepperdine so we will try and continue that against any future opponent.”
Stanford (17-4, 5-1 MPSF) was also very productive last week, notching three wins against UC Irvine (18-6), Chapman (24-7) and Long Beach State (11-8). The Cardinal are currently riding a season-high seven-game winning streak that the Trojans will look to halt on Saturday.
The Cardinal will be looking to avenge their 8-7 overtime defeat to the Trojans in the semifinals of the NorCal Tournament earlier in the season. In fact, USC has won each of the last six matchups between the two teams — but not by much.
Three of the last four games between USC and Stanford have been decided by one goal, and two of them have gone to overtime. Last year, the Trojans defeated the Cardinal 10-9 in overtime at the NorCal Tournament, 9-6 in conference play and 11-10 in the MPSF tournament semifinals.
The team that hails from Palo Alto, Calif., the site of the 2013 NCAA championship, is carried by MPSF leading scorer Bret Bonanni, who is averaging a little more than a hat trick per game. Goalie Drew Holland is currently making just a tad more than 8 saves to 7 goals against him per game.
“Most of our preparation for Stanford will be focused on defense,” Genidounias said.
After taking on Stanford, the Trojans will proceed to play Long Beach State (18-10, 1-5 MPSF) on Sunday. The 49ers had it rough last week, losing to UCLA 9-5 and Stanford 11-8. The Trojans have won 23 consecutive games against Long Beach State after beating them 13-7 at the SoCal tournament.
The 49ers’ leading goal scorer is Zacchary Kappos, who is averaging just under two goals per game. Goalie Pavo Ljepopio has been a force on defense this year, making slightly more than 10 saves per game.
As they near the end of the season, the Trojans know that they can’t take any goal-scoring opportunities for granted.
“Against Pepperdine, we missed a lot of opportunities that we needed to capitalize on,” redshirt junior driver Rex Butler said.
After once again being stripped of its No. 1 ranking after a road loss to the University of the Pacific, the team knows what it has to do in order to be on track for a sixth consecutive national championship.
“We need to win out and do well in the conference tournament,” Genidounias said.
Saturday’s showdown against Stanford is also Senior Day for the Trojans, and the combination of this milestone, Homecoming weekend and a top-five matchup should fill Uytengsu Aquatics Center at 2 p.m. before the schools’ football teams square off in the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum three hours later. Sunday’s tilt against Long Beach State is slated for noon.
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