Men’s water polo ready for rivalry reunion with Cal

Freshman driver Marko Vavic pauses and looks for a space to make a pass to a teammate at the Uytengsu Aquatics Center Photo by Austin Paik | Daily Trojan.

The men’s water polo team has redemption in mind as it looks to take on No. 2 Cal on Saturday.

This is the first time the two have met since the Bears took the championship title away from the Trojans at the end of last season. Not only does USC want to create a different ending from last year, but it also wants to beat Cal in its home pool, which hasn’t been done in recent years. To say the least, the team has been looking forward to this match for a long time.

“There definitely is a lot of pressure to help avenge ourselves in losing in the final, and avenging ourselves for not winning a championship last year,” sophomore driver Thomas Dunstan said. “But it also is kind of a new beginning for us to prove that we are the best.”

The Trojans sit one spot ahead in the rankings, but everyone knows it is going to be a fight until the end. With 13 seniors on the team, all of whom want to leave with that championship title, they have been practicing for this game for what feels like the whole season. The team may have changed slightly from previous seasons, but it is still as ready as ever for the challenge.

“I just think our team unity and togetherness is really good this year,” redshirt sophomore 2-meter Sam Slobodien said. “Everybody loves each other and we are ready to win a championship.”

One of the biggest differences for the team this year is the addition of freshman driver Marko Vavic. Recently clinching his third MPSF Newcomer of the Week Award, Vavic’s skill in the pool has not been overlooked. He now leads USC in scoring after netting six goals in the last two wins. His contribution is certainly something the team knows is an asset for heading to Cal.

“Having Vavic is a huge benefit for us,” Dunstan said. “It definitely takes some pressure off the rest of the players and puts it onto him, but he’s definitely one of the best players on the team that helps us score goals.”

While Vavic will help lead the charge offensively, the team must also be prepared defensively. Cal is led by senior Luca Cupido, the MPSF’s top scorer with 50 goals. Shutting him down will be a huge focus of the Trojan defense, but the players feel prepared.

“I would say their biggest strength is probably that they can just go off for 5 goals at a time, like, really quickly if they play on a motion a lot of the time,” Slobodien said. “That is probably their biggest strength that if they get hot they’re good. But, their biggest weakness is the same thing. If we can slow them down, they will crack under pressure.”

This will be put to the test this weekend, when the Trojans won’t have the backing of the homefield crowd there to support them. However, they are ready to finally take a win at their home and prove that last season’s ending was a fluke.

“I love it,” Slobodien said. “I love the challenge. I think we’re ready for them. I can’t wait to play them and get revenge for our loss last year.”

The Trojans want to win for their seniors, for the program and for themselves. But they also want to win for their coach, Jovan Vavic. In his 23rd year as head coach for the men’s team, he has seen many Trojan teams go by. Nine of those teams have won championships. This team’s goal is no different. The Trojans are ready to prove why USC will continue to have a long history of winning.

“I think I am most excited to finally show Jovan that we are the best team,” Dunstan said. “And have him have no doubts about it.”