They say good first impressions are important, and for the No. 1 USC men’s water polo team, this weekend’s Triton Invitational will be the place to show that they haven’t lost a step since their undefeated 2008 campaign ended with a national championship.
Headed to the Canyonview Aquatic Center in San Diego to participate in the annual event hosted by UC San Diego, the Trojans are well aware of the need to set an early season tone if they are to repeat their blemish-free record of the past season.
“We all know we have to come to play from the beginning,” junior driver Kyle Sterling said. “Everyone’s going to be gunning for us.”
The invitational will feature eight teams from the surrounding area, including No. 5 Pepperdine and No. 6 Loyola Marymount, both of whom took the Trojans to a sudden death overtime period in last season’s Triton.
Senior driver Nico Sardo, who is among the upperclassmen who helped the Trojans to the championship last year, partially blames the close results from last year’s event on a lack of excitement for the event, but sees a change for this year’s edition.
“There’s definitely a chance for lackadaisicalness, but I think we’re much more prepared and ready,” Sardo said.
Although Pepperdine looms in the championship portion of the Invitational, the Trojans will start the weekend on Saturday with a match against Pomona-Pitzer, the third-ranked team in Division II, followed quickly by a match with No. 19 Air Force.
“You definitely want to make a statement. Making an early statement is always a good thing,” Sardo said. And although their first two opponents aren’t traditional powerhouses, “they’re not going to just roll over, they do train hard, and you have to go play hard.”
USC will open Sunday with their final Group A match against LMU, and then will wait to see who emerges from the set of Group B round robin matches. The seeding matches will depend upon which team finishes where in the group standings, No. 1 in Group A playing No.1 in Group B, and so on. If USC ends up facing off against Pepperdine, it would be the second straight year that the two teams play for the Triton Invitational final.
Other teams that the Trojans could from Group B encounter include No. 7 UC Santa Barbara or host No. 10 UC San Diego.
Either way the Triton Invitational turns out, the team realizes the importance of getting this season off to a good start.
“It’s a building block for the rest of the season; if you start off well, you hopefully can do well for the rest of the season,” Sardo said.
But the general idea about the Triton Invitational, and the season, to Sardo, is quite simple:
“It’s never good to give anybody hope.”