The USC men’s water polo team continues its road trip this weekend, although it will be a very short trip. The No. 1 Trojans (15-0), playing their sixth consecutive away game, will travel to Westchester to take on Loyola Marymount in the team’s final non-conference game of the season.
“Every game is important,” USC coach Jovan Vavic said. “We take each game very seriously, whether it’s a conference game or not. Our guys are ready for tomorrow as well as conference games in the future.”
Saturday’s game against the Lions (11-6) serves as the team’s last test before the stakes are raised and each game matters. Once Mountain Pacific Conference play begins, just one loss could keep a top team out of the NCAA tournament.
“We’ve got ourselves lined up to be in really good shape to get in at-large bid of something goes wrong in the MPSF Tournament,” sophomore driver Rex Butler said. “We really want to start rounding into form so we can get a good kick at the end of the season.”
In last year’s meeting, USC easily handled LMU, winning by a score of 13-3 at McDonald’s Swim Stadium. In that game, sophomore driver Kostas Genidounias led all scorers with three goals. The Lions were playing with a heavy heart, as their head coach, John Loughran, was battling cancer and was spectating at the game. Loughran has since recovered and has now rejoined the team.
“Last year we beat them pretty easily,” Vavic said. “They were going through some tough times, with their coach battling cancer. He’s recovered, and I’m very happy to have him back. They should play a lot better this year.”
This year’s version of the Lions is on a streak at this point in the season. The winners of their last seven games, the team is averaging just fewer than 16 goals per game in each of those victories.
“They have a couple of good outside shooters,” Vavic said. “We’re going to have to be very aware because they have a lot of attacking weapons.”
LMU is headed by attacker Milutin Mitrovic, who leads the team in scoring with 32 goals. Slowing him down will be the focal point for the USC defense.
“[Mitrovic] is one of their key players,” Vavic said. “We need to know where he is at all times. It’s amazing that he’s only a freshman, but he is extremely dangerous and playing very well thus far.”
No matter how good their opponent is playing, USC players are confident that they will be able to continue their run of excellence through to the postseason. While maintaining their focus on the task at hand, the team knows that they should win the rest of their games, provided that they play to their full potential.
“We’re definitely prepared for these next opponents,” Butler said. “We’re coming off a big weekend, winning all those games by a pretty large margin. We have a lot of confidence. Hopefully, we can maintain this through conference play so we’ll be in full swing heading into the stretch run.”