Last month, the No. 1 USC men’s water polo team upended Stanford 10-9 in an overtime thriller in the semifinals of the NorCal tournament.
Fast forward three weeks later and the Trojans (14-0, 1-0) return to Palo Alto, Calif. on Saturday, looking to notch another win over the No. 4 Cardinal — with this month’s contest counting toward the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation standings.
The conference rivals square off at the Avery Aquatic Center at 9 a.m. in a televised game on the Pac-12 Network.
This time, though, the Trojans are hoping it isn’t as close.
“We allowed Stanford to get back into the game more than once,” said USC coach Jovan Vavic. “This time, we need to be more defensively aware and give no open looks to their deadly outside shooters.”
USC topped No. 2 UC Santa Barbara 14-5 to earn the SoCal tournament title last Sunday and the team hopes to use its strong performance to continue its double-digit winning streak come Saturday against Stanford (6-2, 0-0).
“We basically shut down every team we played early,” said junior driver Nikola Vavic, who finished with a career-high six goals in the championship game win over the Gauchos.
Stanford, as well, poses a similar threat.
“They’re strong and probably bigger than us, but if we can take them out early then we’ll be good,” Nikola Vavic said.
The Trojans are on a roll right now, but the current situation is all too familiar to some of the team’s veterans.
“We’ve been in this situation in seasons past, where we’re in a good situation in the rankings and with our record,” senior driver Michael Rosenthal said. “Two years ago, we lost to Stanford right after [winning] the SoCal tournament. We don’t want another letdown.”
In 2010, the Trojans were 15-0 after a SoCal tournament win and heading to Palo Alto, but they had their worst offensive output of the season in a 5-3 loss to the Cardinal, and lost at home to California the weekend after.
After playing five games this past weekend, Jovan Vavic and the coaching staff are taking measures to keep the team physically ready for the early start on Saturday.
Though the bulk of the conference slate is beginning, the schedule does have its advantages.
In five of the last seven weeks of the season, the Trojans only play one game per week, allowing for more rest in comparison to the packed-tournament schedules.
While the Trojans have yet to lose, their consensus is that there is still room to improve.
“Our counter-attack, our time-out, and our 6-on-5s need a lot more repetition and practice for us to really fine-tune them,” Rosenthal said. “By the end of the season, hopefully we’ll be more of a well-oiled machine.”