The USC men’s water polo team picked up right where it left off last weekend on Saturday with two big wins over unranked Chapman and Occidental. Neither the Panthers nor the Tigers were a match for the six-time defending champions.
USC (8-0) started off with a 14-0 run against Chapman before rolling on to a 21-6 win. In their second game, USC shut out Occidental 24-0. After Saturday, the Trojans were allowing 4.0 goals per game for the season. Coach Jovan Vavic, who has led USC’s men’s and women’s water polo teams to a combined 13 national championships, not only had his players ready defensively but also had them playing with offensive efficiency. Neither Chapman nor Occidental had a save against the No. 3 team.
Coach Vavic was not surprised by these surges.
“We are playing some less experienced opponents, and we are playing better players at the beginning of the game more,” Vavic said.
One of the greatest strengths of this group of players is its ability to work as a team. Senior driver Kostas Genidounias was the undeniable Trojan star of the Triton Invitational last weekend with sixteen goals. Nonetheless, both of yesterday’s games featured different stars at the top of the scoring list. Freshman driver Matteo Morelli led scoring with five goals in the first game. Senior two-meter Max Hurst-Mendoza did not score at all against Chapman but led with a career-best five goals against Occidental. Although Genidounias is the No. 4 all-time scorer in USC history entering the 2014 season, Coach Vavic emphasizes his ability as a distributer.
“Having Kostas on our team helps everybody,” Vavic said. “He’s not just a great scorer. He’s also a great assist player. He’s like LeBron James. A player like that on your team makes everybody better.”
Thirteen total Trojans scored on the first day of this tournament.
Additionally, players with international experience are able to provide an important lift to the team as well. Coach Vavic believes that these players are very valuable.
“That has been the reason we have been successful for so many years, because these young players come in and are able to bring this experience from Europe or Australia,” Vavic said. “They also are very skilled. Sometimes, these guys play on more experienced international teams. They have more experience than 18-year-olds.”
Freshman goalie McQuin Baron, who had 12 saves against Chapman, freshman two-meter Lachlan Edwards, who had four combined goals on Saturday, and freshman utility man Mihajlo Milicevic, who had two goals against Chapman, all have experience playing outside the United States. This group combined with the young local experience of freshman utility Bryce Hoerman, who had a total of three goals on Saturday. Freshman driver Grant Stein and freshman utility man James Walters, who both had four goals on Saturday, only add depth to USC’s already-deep squad.
Though USC’s opponents this week are not as strong as they were in San Diego last week, the team is slowly improving.
“Some areas are definitely better,” Vavic said. “Other areas need some more work, but overall it’s been pretty good. They are still learning to play together.”
Play for the Trojans resumed yesterday with a win against Concordia, 20-6 and another win against No. 18 Air Force, 25-7. USC improved to 22-0 overall against the two opponents. The Trojans were led by a contingent of freshmen in their victory over Concordia, as freshman driver Grant Stein netted nine total goals (four against Concordia and another five against Air Force). Freshman driver Matteo Morelli also had a big effort for the No. 3-ranked Trojans, netting four goals against Air Force.
The Trojans will face Air Force again Saturday for the NorCal Tournament in Stockton, California.