USC put its best foot forward this past weekend at the UCLA Invitational, winning all three of its games in blowout fashion. In what was to be expected, the team had no trouble with opponents La Verne, Pomona-Pitzer, and Chapman, scoring 20 goals or more in each contest and allowing a combined total of just ten goals. Head coach Jovan Vavic was pleased with the trajectory of the team coming off the season’s first set of games.
“Overall I feel that we are getting better,” Vavic said. “Our guys were playing with more poise and intensity as the tournament went on. Our defense I felt was the best of all the teams in the tournament.”
One bright spot over the weekend was the official return of team captain Matt Burton, who missed most of last season due to injury. The fifth-year senior scored two goals over the weekend in his first game after a long recovery.
“It’s just great. It reminds me of the whole reason I wanted to play water polo,” Burton said. “Just to be there for my teammates, after coming back from injury. It’s come full circle and I couldn’t be more excited to be back in the pool.”
Redshirt sophomore goalie Ely Bonilla got the bulk of the playing time while junior goalie James Clarke rested a sore knee. Vavic praised Bonilla’s play, but would not comment on who would be the starter. In fact, the team may use both goalies equally for specific situations.
“Ely is a fabulous goalie, but we have two top-caliber goalies,” Burton sad. “We’re looking at possibly having two goalies that we can both utilize in certain situations against certain teams.”
Offensively, the standout of the tournament was junior driver Nikola Vavic. The second-leading goal scorer from a year ago, Vavic scored 10 goals combined over the three victories.
“Nikola had a really excellent tournament,” Vavic said. “He really was playing the best water polo he has played at USC.”
In addition to the three official games, the Men of Troy played in three scrimmages, which gave Vavic a chance to play younger, more inexperienced players.
“Some of our younger players who didn’t play a lot last year, they all played and contributed,” Vavic said. “And that’s the best thing. We now know that we have an extra five or six guys that can help us in big games.”
While the team clearly had no trouble scoring, coach Vavic still found areas for improvement for the team moving forward.
“We have to be more patient on offense and a little bit smarter with our decision making,” Vavic said. “We still made very naïve mistakes, but I attribute that to being tired. We played four games on Sunday, so they were just exhausted.”
The Men of Troy will have plenty of time to rest up, as their next game is Saturday against Cal Baptist in the team’s home opener.