Young Trojans to be tested this weekend


Jovan Vavic insists there won’t be a letdown.

Not on Saturday. Not in the home opener for a group full of so many first-time starters.

Young veteran · Junior two-meter Matt Burton will lead the Trojan attack against upcoming opponents Long Beach State and Loyola Marymount this weekend. Burton is one of only five upperclassmen for the Trojans. - Katelynn Whitaker | Daily Trojan

USC’s 16-year men’s water polo coach knows there might be a tendency for his team to relax following effortless wins over Redlands and Whittier in last weekend’s UCI Invitational. Don’t expect Vavic and his youthful Trojans (2-0), however, to relax anytime soon.

Or ease up on the gas.

“This is a new class; it’s a totally new team,” he said. “So we’re still at a point where it’s special and exciting for these guys.”

With its home opener scheduled for Saturday afternoon against Mountain Pacific Sports Federation foe Long Beach State, followed by a quick road trip to Loyola Marymount for a nonconference matchup Sunday, consistency should be the least of Vavic’s worries. In its last 59 matches, the No. 4 USC men’s water polo team has won 57 times. In each of the last five seasons, it has also finished first nationally in team defense.

If Vavic is to be concerned about anything, it has nothing to do with complacency, but instead with inexperience.

“We’re much, much younger,” he said. “We really need time.”

Yet, if recent results serve as any indication, it’d be tough to form such a conclusion. Just last weekend, the Trojans outscored Redlands and Whittier 53-5 in rather one-sided affairs, where 18 different players finished with at least one goal.

But Vavic, who normally toes the line between confident and brash, appeared more subdued in recent days.

“The opponent was a Division III opponent and that showed,” Vavic said of the first two matches.

The reason for his suddenly anxious front:  defense.

“Our defense takes time to understand,” Vavic said. “It’s very difficult to teach to all our new players. Instead, we have to simplify some of its aspects, especially early on.”

Complicating things further for the Trojans defensively this weekend will be their opponents, Long Beach State and LMU, who look much improved after disappointing 2009 performances. Granted, they lack the overall depth of a top-flight program, but they do feature some of the more talented players in the nation atop their starting units.

The Long Beach State 49ers’ attacker Taylor Clute and Nick Rascon remain equally dangerous offensively after tallying eight goals each during last weekend’s UCI Invitational. The Lions feature a pair of All-American candidates of their own in Edgaras Asajavicius and Tibor Forai.

“They have good outside shooters,” Vavic said. “We’ll have to do a good job of blocking and helping out our goalie.”

Fortunately, Vavic’s emphasis on defense hasn’t been lost on anyone.

“If we’re going to win, it’s going to have to be defensive-oriented like always,” junior two-meter Matt Burton said. “We may not have the experience, but we do have a lot of talented guys.”

It’s hard to argue with those sentiments, especially in regard to the team’s natural abilities — particularly on offense.

Despite far less game experience than their predecessors, 12 players have already tallied at least three goals this season in just two games, including sophomore utility Mace Rapsey, redshirt sophomore driver Michael Rosenthal and freshman redshirt driver Stephen Siri, who all have five goals on the year.

Such an upside does, in turn, give Vavic at least something to grin about these days.

“I am really looking forward to this weekend,” he said. “It’s a talented bunch. For this group, the sky’s the limit.”