USC hosts No. 9 Pepperdine, Chapman

New descriptions for USC senior goalie Joel Dennerley’s contributions to the surging No. 2 USC men’s water polo team are tough to come by. Last week he notched his eighth career Mountain Pacific Sports Federation Player of the Week award. In USC’s recent six-match winning streak, the goalie has allowed fewer than five goals per contest, fortifying a Trojans’ backline.

Stopper · Senior goalie Joel Dennerley averages almost 10 saves per contest and a conference-best 4.8 goals against average this season. - Luciano Nunez | Daily Trojan

“[Dennerley] has been very consistent for us,” USC coach Jovan Vavic said. “There’s really not enough you can say about him.”

Riding Dennerley’s dominant play, the Trojans (15-2, 5-0) welcome No. 9 Pepperdine to McDonald’s Swim Stadium on Saturday at 1 p.m. In a quick turnaround game, the Trojans will square off against Chapman at 2:30 p.m. for the first time in program history.

Since losing consecutive games in the SoCal tournament to California and UCLA, the Trojans rattled off six straight wins, inevitably drawing parallels to this stretch and last season’s late title run. In 2010, after losing to Stanford and California on Oct. 9 and Oct. 16, respectively, USC never lost again.

Despite the similarities, Vavic insists the two seasons are difficult to compare.

“This season is a little bit different because everybody who is playing us knows our players, and last season they didn’t,” Vavic said. “We started four freshmen in the SoCal tournament last year. The difference is that these teams know our players now and know our strengths and weaknesses better. Last year we were able to do certain things that surprised the opponent, but this year that’s not the case.”

Before a critical matchup against No. 1 UCLA to end the regular season, USC faces a physical Pepperdine team that — although just 2-4 in MPSF play — packs some offensive firepower of its own.

“Pepperdine’s going to be a tough game,” Vavic said. “They’ve played some close games against some really tough opponents, and they have won some games against some very dangerous teams. Size-wise, they are one of the biggest teams out there. They shoot the ball really well.”

If Pepperdine plans to end its 10-game losing streak against USC, the Waves will have to rely on the scoring prowess of attackers Andrew Milcovich and Matthew DeTrane, who have paced Pepperdine with a combined 74 goals — more than any scoring duo for the balanced USC attack. Though not as celebrated as his USC counterpart in Dennerley, Pepperdine goalie Bence Valics has posted an average 9.4 saves per game mark as well.

The formula for postseason seeding for USC cannot be simpler. If the team wins its remaining MPSF games, the Trojans will secure the No. 1 seed for the MPSF tournament. Despite the hot streak, Vavic believes there are still some areas on which the team can continue to improve.

“We can always improve in our transition offense,” Vavic said. “I think we created some opportunities that we didn’t convert against Stanford. Sometimes we really rush things and don’t make good passes. In the game against Stanford, there were a few times where the pass wasn’t there on time or didn’t even arrive. On the defensive side, shot blocking is something we always stress. We’re working on all of these things.”