As droves of students begin to migrate north for the weekend football game against Cal, so will the No. 3 USC men’s water polo team.
The Trojans take to the road to face No. 4 Cal and No. 16 Pacific in their second consecutive two-game weekend, a week after capping an undefeated homestand that featured No. 8 Pepperdine and Long Beach City College. The Trojans are 9-1 this season and undefeated in conference play.
“We’ve had our ups and downs. We’re not all the way to where we want to be, but there is progress,” said senior two-meter Shea Buckner. “We want to go to NCAA Championships.”
The Trojans’ matchup with Cal on Saturday looks to live up to the two teams’ storied rivalry, as both of the schools enter the weekend ranked in the top five nationally. In the past three years, the teams have met twice in the NCAA Championship, with the Bears coming out victorious both times. This includes a win in 2006 that was decided by a single goal scored in the final second of the game. The Trojans were 2-0 against the Bears in 2008, and won each of the closely contested games in the final minutes en route to an undefeated 29-0 championship season.
Buckner, who transferred from Cal to USC after his freshman year, knows what to expect from a strong Golden Bear attack.
“They’ve got good leadership. They’re really fast and great on the counter-attack,” Buckner said. “They play with a lot of energy and physicality.”
USC already faced off against Cal once this season when the teams met in the third place game of the NorCal Tournament in Palo Alto, Calif. The Trojans bested the Bears 8-6, in a game that featured eight different Trojan players scoring goals.
Pacific, who faces USC on Sunday in Stockton, Calif., has not had nearly as much success against the Trojans as Cal, having lost the last eight games played between the two teams. The Trojans were 2-0 against Pacific in 2008 and averaged a seven-goal margin of victory in the two wins. USC has a 35-7 all-time record against Pacific, and their .833 winning percentage over the Tigers is the third-highest out of all the opponents the Trojans face in 2009.
“Pacific isn’t an easy team either. Cal is obviously the focus, but you have to be ready for the game against Pacific at their home,” Buckner said.
Senior driver Justin Rappel leads the Trojans with 16 goals scored, while fellow senior driver Matt Sagehorn follows closely behind with 14. USC’s veterans continue to dominate offensively, as five of the Trojan’s top six scorers are seniors.
Sophomore goalie Joel Dennerley, who recorded eight saves in the Pepperdine match last weekend, now has 60 saves this season, and is averaging less than four goals allowed per game so far in 2009. He continues to anchor a powerful Trojan defense that has not surrendered more than eight goals in any game this season.
“Our goal is to never give up more than four goals a game,” Buckner said. “We’re always well prepared and we know our system. As long as we stick to it, we do a good job.”