It’s been a crazy year in college athletics.
Scandals ran rampant across college football and college basketball. The NCAA tournament certainly defined madness. But amid all of this, it was clear the cardinal and gold still boasts some, if not most, of the top teams in the nation across all sports.
So as the year comes to a close, I thought it would be fitting to count down the top five storylines in USC athletics in the last year.
No. 5: USC men’s basketball rollercoaster ride
The season didn’t start off well for the men’s basketball team, as it was blown out by 20 points by Rider at home. But then the Trojans made a complete 180, defeating then-No. 20 Texas at home and then-No. 18 Tennessee on the road. To start off conference play, they edged rival UCLA — and it was then that I thought maybe this could be the year USC had a decent shot at making an NCAA tournament run.
Up-and-down conference play squelched those dreams a bit. But USC ended the season defeating then-No. 10 Arizona at home and Washington on the road.
But then the Pac-10 tournament brought about even more storylines as USC coach Kevin O’Neill allegedly hit a University of Arizona booster after the Trojans’ first-round win against California. In the infamous words of O’Neill, he claimed he “works hard and plays hard.”
It’s too bad his team couldn’t bring the same energy and fire O’Neill exhibited when USC was ousted in the first four round of the Big Dance.
No. 4: Women of Troy’s postseason run
For the second consecutive year, the USC women’s basketball team was, in my opinion, snubbed from playing in the NCAA tournament.
Unlike last year, however, USC coach Michael Cooper accepted a bid to play in the Women’s National Invitational Tournament.
The team didn’t necessarily end the regular season on a high note, but it started clicking at the right time. Junior guard Ashley Corral’s move to a reserve role gave the Women of Troy a scoring threat off the bench and allowed senior guard Jacki Gemelos to facilitate the offense for the starting unit. An unprecedented run to the title game had USC one win away from its first postseason title since 1984, but the Women of Troy fell short to Toledo. Even though it wasn’t necessarily the tournament they wanted, the Women of Troy almost came away as Queens of the Dance.
No. 3: Freshman Sophia Popov captures individual Pac-10 title
Popov’s successful freshman campaign has given the German native a top-10 ranking as the postseason approaches. She helped lead USC women’s golf to a Pac-10 championship, while also capturing the individual title. She has been instrumental in the team’s success, and despite her youth, she helped carry USC when it lost junior Lisa McCloskey to an injury during the Pac-10 tournament. Popov became just the fourth Woman of Troy to capture an individual championship, and first since 2000.
No. 2: Senior opposite Murphy Troy’s record-breaking season
It was the first time I watched a men’s volleyball game this season, and I was not the least disappointed. As physically dominant as Troy is, I would think he could probably play tight end on the football team. Troy’s résumé donning the cardinal and gold has been filled with almost every accolade.
This year at Pepperdine, he broke the USC career rally scoring era record for kills. Troy also recorded his 125th career ace against BYU and broke the all-time USC record in the rally scoring era with that stat.
He was just named the MPSF player of the year last Thursday, and he has led the Trojans to a regular-season best 21-2 record. The senior is now looking to lead USC to its first NCAA championship since 1990.
No. 1: USC men’s water polo three-peat
It’s hard to win one championship, whether it be in the college or professional ranks. But USC coach Jovan Vavic has directed the men’s water polo team to three consecutive national championships. Vavic also became the first coach to win three straight National Coach of the Year awards.
Although the Trojans were selected to finish fourth in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation, USC compiled a 28-2 record, while becoming the sixth USC team to win three straight national titles.
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