After coming close to taking the NCAA Championship game last season, the men’s water polo team — which opens this season ranked at No. 2 — set its sights on winning it all. Even though they ended last season with a 24-2 record, with only one loss during the regular season, the Trojans hope to win the final game this year, with the national title game at the Uytengsu Aquatics Center in December.
“We are going to try to put everything through the whole year preparing for the one game at the end,” sophomore driver Marin Dasic said. “It definitely is going to be a big motivation because it is going to be our people, our crowd — like Cal had [in the championship game] last year — and at the end they beat us. We didn’t win the last three years, but I think this is the time with our people, with our pool.”
While the Trojans have their end goal in mind already, they have many games to play before achieving it. They will face Cal, perennial championship contender Stanford and many more quality programs throughout the season. But the team has confidence in head coach Jovan Vavic, who is returning for his 23rd season after leading USC to the NCAA title match for the past 12 years.
“Our coaches are unique, and they pick the right people, the right captains, and they know what we have to do,” Dasic said. “They are dedicated, and they are doing everything they can to make us better. I think they have a huge impact on our game and on everything we do.”
With 10 returning seniors, seven of whom are All-Americans, USC is heading into the season with a veteran roster. Along with the seniors, the team also sees the return of all its goalies as well as sophomores like Olympian driver Thomas Dunstan and the 2016 MPSF Newcomer of the Year, 2-meter Matt Maier. This experience allows the team to learn from its mistakes and continue to build upon the foundations already established.
“I think we want to keep the same sort of energy and the same passion that we brought to last season,” senior driver Blake Edwards said.
The returning captain also said the team had to make adjustments after coming up short last year.
“Just a bit of composure when we’re in front and learning how to close out games,” Edwards said. “We had a fantastic record last season, and it just fell apart for us in the last quarter due to some defensive errors, which was really just us switching off.”
USC will hold an edge if the team manages to make another deep postseason run this year. The NCAA Tournament will be held at the Uytengsu Aquatics Center in December, and the Trojans will have their home crowd to help them keep their energy at a high level.
For the seniors, this fall is their last chance to bring home the championship — but more than that, it is a chance to defend their home pool.
“I don’t think I really need to motivate the team,” Edwards said. “I think everyone is hurting from last year’s loss, and I think there’s just a whole lot of excitement within the playing group. There has been a whole lot of hard work put in over the summer, and we are just really looking forward to putting it all together.”
The Trojans will play in the UCLA Mini Invitational this weekend for their season opener. They will be taking on Claremont-Mudd-Scripps at 10:20 a.m. and Pomona-Pitzer at 11:40 a.m. on Saturday.