Despite all of the comeback victories and the overtime wins that the No. 1 USC men’s water polo team had experienced this season, the Trojans’ playoff hopes still rested in the outcome of one final game at McDonald’s Swim Stadium.
After falling to No. 4 UCLA 10-6 in the semifinal round of the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation Championships, the Trojans bested No. 2 Stanford 9-7 in a must-win game to take third place in the tournament and earn the solo at-large bid to the NCAA Championships in Princeton, NJ.
“I’m just ecstatic,” said junior driver Devon Borisoff, who had a goal for the Trojans. “It was an unbelievable victory and a huge game in our home pool.”
Leading USC were senior driver Matt Sagehorn and senior two-meters Jordan Thompson and J.W. Krumpholz, who each notched two goals in the win. Borisoff, along with senior driver Justin Rappel and sophomore two-meter Matt Burton, rounded out the scoring with a goal apiece.
“We knew that this could be our last game of the year, so we came out and put it all on the line,” Sagehorn said.
The game did not start in the Trojans’ favor, however, as the Cardinals were quick to take a 2-0 lead in the first period.
“Burton comes up and was like, ‘That doesn’t matter, we went down 2-0 on them at the NCAAs last year and came back and won 7-5,’” Sagehorn said. “And that kind of led everyone to think that it doesn’t matter if you go down; if you play the whole game … you’re going to be able to come back in the end.”
And the Trojans did just that.
USC surged back with five straight goals — four of which came in the second period behind the arms of Krumpholz and Thompson — to take a 5-2 advantage into the half. Despite offensive scoring spurts from Stanford, goals from Borisoff, Sagehorn and Kurzeka allowed USC to maintain its lead for the rest of the match and seal the 9-7 victory.
“We hit our shots and we passed the ball to our big guys,” said USC coach Jovan Vavic. “[Krumpholz] had two goals, [Thompson] had two goals. We gave them the ball, and that’s tough to stop.”
The win allowed the Trojans to place in the tournament despite a semifinal loss to rival UCLA on Saturday.
Senior driver Shea Buckner had three scores against the Bruins, but the Trojans could not keep up with UCLA’s offensive attack, which netted three goals in the fourth period to put the game out of reach and dash USC’s hopes for a third-consecutive MPSF title. UCLA would go on to win the tournament and capture the automatic bid into the NCAA Championships.
To reach the semifinals, the Trojans came out strong in a 13-5 victory over No. 8 Pacific on Friday, where Buckner again led USC with a career-high five scores. His first of the game was also the 100th goal of his career, making him one of 25 Trojans to reach that benchmark.