For the first time since mid-October of last year, the No. 4 USC men’s water polo team will look to dive back into Mountain Pacific Sports Federation hoping to rebound from a loss.
Last week the previously undefeated Trojans (9-2, 1-0) suffered back-to-back losses at the hands of No. 1 Stanford and No. 3 UCLA by a combined three goals in the semifinals and third-place game of the SoCal tournament, respectively.
Yet, with a snapped 22-game winning streak, the Trojans remain optimistic they can get back on track, as they host No. 14 Long Beach State on Thursday at 5 p.m. at McDonald’s Swim Stadium.
“We need to bounce back from these losses,” senior goalie Joel Dennerley said. “Hopefully we address the areas where we didn’t execute and put in a much better performance.”
USC’s MPSF duel with the 49ers is followed by an exhibition match later that evening against Long Beach City College, and another conference battle against No. 12 Loyola Marymount on Saturday at 1 p.m.
“[Long Beach State] is usually always a tough game, so we have to be ready for that one,” sophomore driver Nikola Vavic said. “They’re all tough teams but we should be alright as long as we get back to what we know we can do. This weekend was a real eye opener. We realized that things aren’t going to be as easy as we thought.”
Following a pair of losses over the weekend, the Trojans’ ranking slipped from the top and gave way to Stanford, who ended up winning the SoCal tournament.
Some of the team’s recent struggles, at least according to Jovan Vavic, can be attributed to injuries, as senior two-meter Matt Burton, who finished with 33 goals last season, has been sidelined in recent weeks.
“The fact one of our best players did not play for the last few weeks really affected us,” Jovan Vavic said. “We could have used [Burton]. When your offense isn’t really clicking, you fall back on your defense and we could have really used him there.”
With a familiar setting playing host to a pair of conference games, the Trojans insist they can bounce back, having learned lessons from last weekend.
“Every team is dangerous,” Dennerley said. “Every team can beat anyone and nobody is safe. We need to play more consistently and we need to prepare for every team. We have set ourselves on a tough road.”
Complacency has not historically been a problem for the Trojans. As evidenced by the team’s previously-held 22-game winning streak, USC is not accustomed to losing.
But it can settle in.
“We were definitely starting to get a little complacent, a little de-motivated, so I think now we realize it’s not going to be a walk in the park this year as some people might have thought,” Jovan Vavic said. “We should be a different team this week.”
Looking forward, Dennerley’s experience in the net — the senior already has 87 saves on the season — and the efforts of young players such as Nikola Vavic and freshman driver Kosta Genidounias will play a pivotal role this weekend for the Trojans.
“We need to come out with more intensity,” Nikola Vavic said. “We were pretty low and pretty down last weekend and we need some more fire this week, but I think we’ll definitely see improvement there.”