The No. 1 USC men’s water polo team has run through the gauntlet of its regular season unscathed and is now set to begin postseason play in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation championships. Tournament play opens Friday at McDonald’s Swim Stadium, with what should be a pro-USC crowd on hand to watch the Trojans begin their run at an unprecedented fifth consecutive national championship.
USC begins the tournament against UC Santa Barbara. The two teams have met twice this season already, once in the SoCal tournament championship game in Santa Barbara and once in a regular MPSF game at USC. The Trojans won each game by scores of 14-5 and 12-7, respectively.
In each contest, the Gauchos had trouble stopping striker Nikola Vavic. The star junior, who is rapidly moving up the USC record books, scored six goals in the first meeting and three in the second. Every opponent the team has faced this year has had little success in trying to slow down the Trojans’ leading goal-scorer, whose 72 goals are tops in the MPSF.
Should USC get past the first round, the team will most likely face No. 3 Stanford in the semifinals. The two meetings against the Cardinal this season were two of the toughest games of the season for the Trojans. The first meeting, which came in the NorCal tournament semifinals, was level after regulation before junior two-meter Jeremy Davie provided the deciding set in a thrilling match in Palo Alto.
The rematch was not as dramatic but equally competitive, with USC using a four-goal third quarter to create a lead that would prove enough in a 9-6 victory.
Led by senior driver Tobias Preuss’ three goals and junior goalie James Clark’s nine saves, USC swept the season series against Stanford despite each game being played in Stanford’s home pool. This time, should the matchup present itself, the Trojans will have a home-pool advantage.
The other top threat to the Trojans’ quest for a title is crosstown rival UCLA. Each match between the two schools this season was a one-goal affair, with the Trojans coming on top 7-6 in the first game and 10-9 in the second matchup. The first game was the NorCal tournament championship, in which Vavic knocked in four goals and Clark made 11 saves.
In the second game, played last weekend, USC won in thrilling fashion thanks in large part to senior driver Michael Rosenthal’s late-game heroics in which he scored his third goal with just over two minutes remaining to give the Trojans a one-goal lead. That lead would hold up when the final buzzer sounded, cementing a perfect regular season with a record of 24-0.
The last time USC finished the regular season undefeated was in 2008. Before that, the Trojans capped off an undefeated 2006 regular season before tripping up against Cal in both the MPSF and NCAA championship games.
This year, the team is hoping to repeat the former, rather than the latter.