The USC men’s water polo team rebounded with two wins this past weekend following a home loss to UCLA the previous Sunday. The No. 3 Trojans (20-4, 5-2 MPSF) beat No. 4 Long Beach State in impressive fashion on Saturday by a final score of 13-7 and No. 12 UC Irvine 14-10 on Sunday.
It was a senior-dominated first frame Saturday against the 49ers (19-5, 5-2). As he did against UCLA, senior driver Rex Butler got the Trojans started against Long Beach State with the match’s first goal. Long Beach State would rally back to take a one-goal lead, but the advantage would not last long.
USC senior driver Marc Vonderweidt tied up the game moments after the Trojans lost the lead, and Butler added two more goals to give the Trojans a 4-2 advantage going into the second quarter.
In the second quarter, USC started right where they left off with a goal from freshman utility Mihajlo Milicevic. The Trojans then finished off a streak of six straight goals to extend the gap to 7-2. Though the 49ers would score once more, USC freshman utility James Walters picked up the last goal of the half and once again extended the Trojan lead to five.
In the second half, Long Beach State started on a 3-1 rally to close the lead to 9-6. Unfortunately for the 49ers, that run ended quickly. Freshman driver Matteo Morelli and senior driver Kostas Genidounias each scored before the end of the third to give the Trojans an 11-6 lead going into the final frame. Morelli and Butler scored their third and fifth goals of game, respectively, in the fourth frame and essentially put the match out of reach. Long Beach State added one goal at the very end of the game, but that would not stand in the way of a solid 13-7 road win for USC.
Sunday’s match against UC Irvine (13-11, 1-6) was not much different. The Trojans entered the second quarter with a 4-2 lead, but the Anteaters roared back to tie the game up at 4-4. Later in the second, Vonderweidt and Morelli each scored, but the Anteaters responded with a goal of their own. The 6-5 Trojan lead expanded to 8-5 by halftime with strikes from sophomore driver Nick Bell and freshman utility Bryce Hoerman.
Genidounias and Hoerman punched in goals to start the third, making it four unanswered goals for the Trojans and giving them a 10-5 lead. The Anteaters cut the lead to 10-6 at the end of the quarter, putting the game back in reach.
In what has become a trend, the Trojans stepped on the gas at the end of the game to secure victory. Hoerman completed a hat trick to extend USC’s lead to 14-8 with about a minute and a half to play. UCI scored two more goals in garbage time to put the score at 14-10 before the final buzzer.
USC’s play improved coming off of the UCLA loss, especially in the victory over Long Beach State. Trojans’ head coach Jovan Vavic believes the key to this improvement was mental.
“We emphasized that we really need to be much more focused,” Vavic said. “We need to be studying the opponent better.”
Though Bell had his first big showing offensively since a victory over LMU on Oct. 23, Vavic claims that the sophomore can do even better.
“It was nice to see him score,” Vavic said. “But Nick [Bell] can play better than he’s played the last couple of games.”
USC’s next matchup is a big one. This Saturday at 10:30 a.m. in Uytengsu Aquatics Center, the Trojans host No. 5 California. This season, USC has split its two matches with Cal, both of which were decided by a single goal. Cal won the third place game at the NorCal Tournament 11-10. Then in the SoCal Tournament championship, USC won 10-9. Vavic does not expect this matchup to be much different.
“I think it will be similar to that,” Vavic said. “This game means a lot to both teams. It’s gonna be which team is more prepared, which team is more focused, which team has a greater desire, but it’s going to be one of those great games. I think it will be a fun game to watch.”
Not only is the contest an interesting matchup, but it will also take place on USC’s senior day. A star-studded group of seniors in Genidounias, Butler, Vonderweidt and two-meter Max Hurst-Mendoza will be honored before the game. Vavic hopes his team will capitalize on the emotion of the day.
“I hope that the emotions are going to be positive and that we are going to be excited, that our players are gonna be hungry,” Vavic said. “I really liked the way we played against Long Beach State. The excitement and fire was there, so I really like that. I think we have so many players that add really great energy to our game. I expect it to be a very emotional and hard-fought game.”