In early October, the USC men’s water polo team lost consecutive games in the SoCal tournament to Stanford and UCLA. But Mountain Pacific Sports Federation play, the No. 2 Trojans (15-2, 5-0) get an opportunity to avenge these two losses by playing those two teams again with conference seeding on the line.
In front of a raucous crowd at McDonald’s Swim Stadium on Parents Weekend, USC began its revenge tour well, thumping No. 3 Stanford 8-4. With the win, USC puts itself squarely in control of its own postseason standing, improving to 5-0 in MPSF play as the only unbeaten team in league play.
“We lost at Stanford last year in their house, and we really wanted to come back and get revenge,” redshirt sophomore driver Stephen Siri said. “They beat us in the SoCal tournament earlier this year, too, and we weren’t happy about the way we played.”
On Oct. 2 in the SoCal tournament semifinal round, USC’s offense, which only managed a season-low four goals, stalled against a physical Cardinal defense. This time, USC capitalized on its chances and exhibited strong shooting accuracy — something USC coach Jovan Vavic has stressed throughout this season.
“Offensively, we were more aggressive and were able to finish on some of our set plays,” senior goalie Joel Dennerley said. “Our six-on-five play was also much-improved.”
Up 3-1 in the second quarter, Dennerley, who notched 14 saves on the afternoon, headed a Stanford five-meter penalty shot off cage, transferring momentum to the Trojans after Stanford scored a goal to open the period.
With the two-goal lead intact, senior driver Peter Kurzeka looked to stake his team to more breathing room. Handling the ball at the point, Kurzeka pump-faked at least four times before delivering a laser into the bottom left corner of the net past Stanford goalie Brian Pingree. A six-on-five goal from redshirt freshman two-meter Jack Plaga with six seconds left in the quarter boosted the Trojans to a comfortable 5-1 advantage.
“We played excellent defense,” Dennerley said. “Overall, it was just a great team effort. Kurzeka really stood out on offense. We got a huge goal from Plaga. The two-meter men, [sophomore Jeremy] Davie and [redshirt junior Brian] Boswell, did a great job as well.”
Davie and Boswell, who combined for two goals, were strong in front of both cages all afternoon against a characteristically aggressive Stanford team. The two players battled for position on the offensive front for set pieces. Perhaps the goal of the afternoon occurred off a set play, when USC dumped the ball into Davie. In the midst of getting dunked under water and losing his swimming cap, Davie surfaced and spun around, whipping the ball into the Cardinal net, causing the crowd to erupt.
“The crowd was excellent,” Siri said. “I wish we could get that many people at every game. We love the Trojan Family, and it’s great to beat Stanford on Parents Weekend. It feels really good to get some revenge against them, but at the same time, we’re not satisfied, we’re going to keep working and grinding all the way to the NCAAs.”
Though USC has five games remaining, the Trojans’ greatest test will be against UCLA on Nov. 18, the final day of the regular season.
“We still have to face UCLA in the last game of the season,” Dennerley said. “They were our last loss, but we’re focusing on next week first. We’ll learn from this game, but also try to move forward.”