USC’s top stars shine off the gridiron as well

With 11 national championships and six Heisman Trophy winners, USC has become synonymous with football, and for good reason. The football program, however, can sometimes cast its Coliseum-sized shadow over the other members of what is one of the country’s deepest and most successful athletic programs.

The “other” USC sports teams have combined for 93 NCAA titles —  17 since the turn of the millennium. The men’s water polo and tennis teams will be going for their respective fourth straight national championships this academic year.

Here’s a look at the top Trojan athletes who will be playing their trade away from the gridiron this fall:


Joel Dennerly: Men’s Water Polo

Since Joel Dennerly took over between the pipes for USC as a freshman in the fall of 2008, the Trojans have won three straight national championships. Coincidence? The numbers and accolades suggest otherwise.

His 641 career saves place him second on USC’s all-time list — 34 shy of Kevin Stringer’s record — with his senior season still to play.

Dennerly’s stellar junior campaign earned him Mountain Pacific Sports Federation Player of the Year honors as well as a selection to the All-America first team.

He’ll bring even more experience to USC this fall, having appeared in three matches for his native Australia at the recently completed World Aquatics Championship in Shanghai, piling up 17 saves on 28 shots.


Peter Kurzeka: Men’s Water Polo

While Dennerly was tending the Trojans’ net, senior driver Peter Kurzeka has spent his past three seasons piling up goals — 100 of them to be exact.

Kurzeka’s 41 goals in 2010 were the second most on the team but it was the timing of some of those scores that set him apart.

He was named the NCAA Tournament MVP after scoring the game-winning goal in USC’s 12-10 overtime win over Cal in last year’s national title game.

Kurzeka, a first-team All-America selection, is one of only three seniors on USC’s squad, which will begin its quest for a historic four-peat at the UC Irvine Invitational in early September.


Alex Jupiter: Women’s Volleyball

In 2010, the Paris-born outside hitter Jupiter led the Women of Troy to their first NCAA Final Four appearance since 2007 and earned first team All-American honors for her play.

Jupiter led USC in kills and points last year and returns this fall for her senior season.

Jupiter has several career USC records in her sights. She is 395 kills shy of Jennifer Kessy’s all-time mark of 1,799 — Jupiter has posted more than 500 kills in each of the last two seasons. She also sits second in school history with 1,636 career points — only 24 away from breaking Keao Burdine’s record.


Falyn Fonoimoana: Women’s Volleyball

As if Jupiter weren’t enough for opposing defenses to contend with, outside hitter Falyn Fonoimoana established herself as one of the conference’s top attackers in her freshman season.

The 6-foot-4 Hermosa Beach native finished second on the team in kills and points, earning recognition as the Pac-10 Freshman of the Year.

She didn’t shrink from the spotlight either, coming up huge in USC’s upset of No. 3 Stanford in last year’s regional final, assuring the Women of Troy a place in the Final Four.

Fonoimoana posted season-highs in kills (25) and digs (14) in the match, and was named MVP of the Dayton Regional.

Fonoimoana returns for the 2011 season along with the rest of USC’s starting seven. The Women of Troy will play their home opener on Sept. 9 against UCLA.


Sophia Popov: Women’s Golf

You’d think that as a freshman from Germany, Sophia Popov would have needed some time to settle into the rhythm of American culture and the stresses of university life before really lighting up the college golf landscape.

Well, think again. Popov won three tournaments in her first year as a Trojan — including the Pac-10 individual championship — and helped lead USC to its fourth Pac-10 team title in program history. For her efforts, Popov was named the Pac-10 Freshman of the Year.

She’s had a busy summer too, making the cut and finishing 67th at the Women’s British Open, the second highest amateur finisher at the event.

Martin Trainer: Men’s Golf

Not to be outdone by its female counterparts, the USC men’s golf team also claimed the Pac-10 team and individual titles last season, with Martin Trainer winning the latter.

The junior strung together four top-seven finishes near the end of last season and led the team with a 72.46 stroke average.

His performance at last year’s Pac-10 championships also earned him an exemption into the PGA Tour’s Reno-Tahoe Open, where he made the cut and finished in a tie for 71st at 3-over-par.

So, at the beginning of another sure to be football-filled fall, it’s worth recognizing some of USC’s sports stars not named Barkley, McDonald or Woods.


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