Defense comes through as USC edges Santa Barbara

The No. 1 USC men’s water polo team proved defense can be the key to victory too.

Traveling to Santa Barbara to play the No. 9 Gauchos proved to be a defensive struggle throughout most of the contest but the Trojans managed to pull out a 6-4 victory.

“Offensively, it wasn’t one of our best days. We didn’t execute our offensive plan… give a lot of credit to Santa Barbara,” USC coach Jovan Vavic said.

The win improves USC’s overall record to 19-1 and 5-0 in Mountain Pacific Sports Federation play.

The Gauchos drew first blood and led 1-0 but redshirt junior driver Kyle Sterling responded with back-to-back goals. The Gauchos managed to respond and tie the score but sophomore two-meter Matt Burton got into the scoring act to put the Trojans up 3-2 at the end of the first period.

The game was still closely contested till halftime with each team trading scores. Senior two-meter J.W. Krumpholz gave the Trojans a 4-2 lead after converting on a 5-meter penalty shot. But again, the Gauchos responded by scoring to cut the lead to a single goal.

Senior driver Justin Rappel gave the Trojans a two goal lead going into halftime while also bringing his season goal total to 29.

“Rappel had a great offensive game today. Out of all our players, he was the best for us today,” said coach Vavic.

The second half became more of a defensive games as both teams combined for just two goals.

The Gauchos managed to strike first after halftime to cut the lead to one goal yet again but senior two-meter Shea Buckner added to his season goal total of 30 to tally the final score for the Trojans.

The USC defense held its opponent to four goals or less for the tenth time this season.

“You have to credit our defense. They really stepped it up and were dominant,” Burton said.

Sophomore goalie Joel Dennerley allowed only one goal in the second half and completely shut down the Gauchos in the final period. He recorded six saves in the contest, bringing his season total to 125.

“Joel played very good, especially in the second half,” Vavic said.