After reclaiming the No. 1 ranking, the USC men’s water polo team will be put to the test against fellow Mountain Pacific Sports Federation member No. 7 Long Beach State this Saturday at McDonald’s Swim Stadium.
The Trojans (16-1, 3-0) previously sat at No. 3 following a one-goal loss to UCLA at the NorCal Tournament, but after nine consecutive victories — including six over a three day span last weekend — the Trojans return to the spot that they held going into the season.
“It meant a lot to us [to regain No. 1], we want to get back to the top, we know everyone’s gunning for us,” sophomore two-meter Matt Burton said.
Earlier this season, the Trojans visited Long Beach to compete in the 49ers’ (6-6, 0-1) season opener, handedly defeating Long Beach State 12-3. In the game, Burton and senior driver Justin Rappel both had hat tricks to help the Trojans cruise to victory.
The teams’ first matchup was a non-conference affair, but this time their meeting is the beginning of Trojans’ Mountain Pacific Sports Federation schedule. The Trojans will play five of their final six games against MPSF foes before the beginning of the MPSF tournament in late November.
After not going a weekend without playing at least two games since their first match up with the 49ers, the Trojans will not play back-to-back games within five days of each other until the MPSF Championships.
But the Trojans know that it’s important to keep focus and take advantage of their less physically demanding MPSF schedule.
“We’re really taking this opportunity when we have just one game a week to get in the best shape that we can,” Burton said. “The coaches have planned a really intense training schedule for this week and next week, twice as many morning practices and the afternoon practices are tougher.”
A victory over Long Beach State, which would be the Trojan’s 36th consecutive home win, would extend the Trojans all-time record against the 49ers to 56-15.
Long Beach State’s senior center Jeff Greenwood was their leading scorer last season, and will head a balanced 49er attack that also features last season’s third team All-MPSF senior goalie Dereck Weibe-Bailey.
The same 49ers team that looked so dangerous before the two teams first met will come to campus holding a grudge, which makes them even more dangerous in the eyes of the experienced Trojans.
“They’re always fierce competitors. They’ll definitely come with a chip on their shoulder. I’m sure they don’t appreciate what we did to them last time,” Burton said.