The men’s water polo team, after finishing third place in the Mountain Pacific Invitational at UC Berkeley last weekend, will compete in the Lancer Invitational Friday against the Concordia Eagles and Fresno Pacific Sunbirds before coming back to USC on Saturday in a rematch with the No. 4 Pacific Tigers.
The No. 3 Trojans (9-1) suffered their first loss of the season at the hands of the Cal Golden Bears, falling 10-8 after trailing 8-3 in the fourth period.
Along with Cal’s home crowd presence, the Bears were able to control the game defensively with 24 straight minutes of perfect defense. Despite two straight wins against top-25 teams in Santa Clara (21-4) and Long Beach State (9-4), the Trojans defense failed against a balanced Cal attack that put up 6 goals in the first half.
In the tournament’s finale, Pacific was down, but never truly out. After USC surged ahead with a 3-0 lead, the Tigers mounted a comeback to put the game within a single goal. With USC’s 4-3 lead in the third period, junior driver Grant Stein and the Trojan offense scored four unanswered goals to win the game, 8-3.
Stein, USC’s leading scorer in the game with 2 goals and an assist, said after the third-place victory that Pacific’s offensive attack gave the USC defense some trouble.
“We knew they were wanting to get back at us after beating them last year. They have some European players that can shoot the ball pretty well, and we were definitely watching out for their lefties that can post up,” Stein said. “They’ve adopted a system similar to us at USC where after they get scored on. They use complicated centering plays that features driving motions and setting picks. Most other teams aren’t used to that.”
Head coach Jovan Vavic, who utilizes centering plays quite often, changed up his defensive approach accordingly on Sunday. The center-less strategy worked to perfection in the fourth period as the Men of Troy shutout a powerful Tiger offense that bested both Air Force and Stanford this past weekend.
But before the Trojans can play Pacific, they must first travel to Riverside Friday to play Concordia and Fresno Pacific.
Concordia, a small school in Irvine, possesses some size on their roster. Albeit unproven early in their regular season, the Eagles possess big athletes in 6-foot-7, two-meter Matthew Lange, 6-foot-5, two-meter and driver Josh Mundell and 6-foot-3 attacker Julian Meyers.
The last time USC and Concordia faced off, the Trojans trounced the Eagles with a barrage of goals in a 25-6 win that featured scores from 11 different players.
After Concordia, the Trojans will take on Fresno Pacific in the final game of the tournament.
With an 11-8 victory over No. 17 San Jose State, Fresno Pacific (4-4) has seen varied success in 2016.
Leading the way for the Sunbirds is team MVP David Maes, who has scored a team-high 22 goals off of 51 shot attempts with 14 steals. Behind Maes’ big arm is goalie Dillon Robinson, who has 64 saves as opposed to 68 goals allowed in six games.
Excluding their wins over San Jose State and Whittier, FPU has fallen to top-25 teams UC San Diego and Santa Clara by margins of 8.6 goals per game.
Even if Maes has a big game for Fresno, the USC offense could be too great for the Sunbirds to try and stop.
Saturday’s contest versus Pacific at home will be the game to watch. Though USC bested Pacific in their Sunday game, 25-goal scorers Engin Ege Colak and Luke Pavillard could sneak a couple past USC junior goalie McQuin Baron.
Opposite Baron will be Alen Osmanovic, who sports 145 saves, 5.6 goals against per game and an 11-2 record to his credit. Even if USC defeated Pacific on Sunday, the Tigers still have nine wins against top-25 squads and could drop USC.
USC’s junior utility player Mihajlo Milicevic hopes that USC’s home advantage could take Pacific entirely out of the game with their physicality and crowd support.
“They’re a very disciplined team, so it’s very hard to try and defend them. Besides that, they don’t have a big gun, and we are in better shape, so we can swim much faster than them,” Milicevic said. “It’s always nice to play at USC. I love it. We have a big crowd; it’s huge for us and it’s definitely an advantage.”