The last time the No. 2 USC men’s water polo team faced Stanford — the semifinals of the SoCal tournament — the Cardinal handed the Trojans their first loss in 11 months, snapping a 22-game winning streak.
USC (13-2, 4-0) has responded with four wins in the last five contests since the loss, and as the No. 3 Cardinal (14-3, 3-1) visit McDonald’s Swim Stadium for a Mountain Pacific Sports Federation bout, revenge is on the minds of many Trojans.
“They took it to us in a couple of different areas in the SoCal tournament, which they obviously learned when we played them in the NorCal tournament,” senior goalie Joel Dennerley said.
The Trojans did also manage Stanford earlier in mid-September — a 12-5 rout in the semifinals of the NorCal tournament. But when the two square off for the third Saturday, it will count toward the MPSF standings.
“We are 1-1 with Stanford so we look forward to this matchup to rank us in the MPSF and gauge us from where we were when we played them last,” Dennerley said.
Last weekend USC topped No. 5 UC Santa Barbara with the help of a hat trick from sophomore two-meter Jeremy Davie and eight saves from Dennerley. Now riding a four-game win streak, the Trojans head into their game against Stanford knowing from past experience it won’t be an easy challenge.
“They know us, we know them and it will really be a battle of different tactics and intensity,” Davie said. “It is good to be at home and have that home advantage.”
Offense has proven to be key in the Trojans’ success this season, notching an average of 12.07 goals per game — fourth best in the MPSF, with No. 4 California leading the standings with 12.83 goals per contest.
“Our offense’s greatest strength is our [passing],” Davie said. “When our passes are good, we have good assists and no goalie can stop us.”
In addition to the up-and-coming Davie, senior driver Peter Kurzeka has been essential to the Trojans’ goal-scoring this season. Ranked 13th in the conference in goals, he averages 1.73 goals a game. Freshman driver Kostas Genidounias, ranked 18th in goals, has also proven a force to be reckoned with in his first season with the program.
Defensively, the team has relied on Dennerley’s command of the net to provide leadership. The career saves record holder at USC, he expressed excitement on being able to face Stanford once again.
“It’s exciting to play such a tough team in front of a home crowd,” Dennerley said. “We hopefully can address the areas we went wrong in the SoCal tournament and play a much better game [tomorrow].”
Following its game against Stanford at 2 p.m., USC hosts Pomona-Pitzer at 4 p.m. The Trojans are 5-0 all-time against the Sagehens, with their last win coming in 2009.
“[Pomona-Pitzer] has some young guys and an up-and-coming program,” Dennerley said. “They are going to be looking forward to the challenge of playing us and who knows what to expect from that.”