The USC men’s water polo team picked up right where it left off last year, going 4-0 over the first weekend of the season at the Triton Invitational in La Jolla, Calif.
On Saturday, the Trojans squared off against Cal Baptist and Loyola Marymount and won both contests with ease, coming out on top with scores of 19-5 and 21-7, respectively.
The real fireworks, however, came on Sunday, when coach Jovan Vavic’s squad scored a mind-boggling 50 goals while allowing just six from the opposition in two wins over then-No. 13 Air Force and Redlands.
The game against Air Force saw 13 different Trojans score, including three goals from highly-touted freshman two-meter Jon Walters.
Last week, Vavic stressed that the Trojans were going to need some less experienced players to step up if USC was going to be able to make a run at a historic sixth consecutive national championship. At that point in time, he was not completely sure who those players were going to be, but this weekend definitely helped clarify that situation.
“John Walters stepped up and played really well for us,” Vavic said. “He was really dominant in the two-meters.”
Walters had seven goals on Sunday, second only to senior driver Nikola Vavic’s nine. Vavic’s 14 goals over the weekend move him just 34 away from taking over as USC’s all-time scoring leader.
At first glance, it might seem like the Trojans played flawlessly. But glossing over details doesn’t win you five straight national championships, and the legendary coach Vavic is well aware of that fact.
“We missed too many short goals and we gave up too many,” Vavic said. “The guys were a little nervous and a little less patient when they got in front of the cage.”
Vavic and his staff clearly were trying to get to know their roster a bit more, and the rotations were indicative of that. The constant substitutions may have been somewhat of a factor in the rusty play for the Trojans.
Time in the cage was split almost equally between senior goalie James Clark and redshirt sophomore goalie Aleck Ryner in the first game. In the second game, junior Paul Mitre was even given a chance to enter the mix, and he performed well, recording three saves to seal up the 27-4 win over Redlands.
“We didn’t always play our best players, as we are trying different people,” Vavic said of his rotation. “And when you do that, you will make mistakes.”
The squad was also given a bit of extra practice, as they concluded Sunday with a scrimmage against crosstown rival and reigning national runner up last year, UCLA. With a total of four official games and one scrimmage in the books, coach Vavic now has a better feel of what his rotation for the season will look like.
Whether they were perfect or not, the four victories extended the Trojans current winning streak to a staggering 35 games.
Though quite the impressive feat, the accomplishment and maintaining of the streak is of little importance to the 12-time national coach of the year.
“You have to focus on the next game, and you really can’t think about the winning streak,” Vavic said. “When we lose, it’s just going to be another loss. All you can do is play against the next team. But if we can win all of them, that would be even better.”
The Trojans will continue play this weekend at the Inland Empire Classic in Pomona, Calif. Their first game will be Saturday at 1:30 p.m. against the UC San Diego Tritons, and the Trojans will also play Pomona-Pitzer, Claremont-Mudd-Scripps and Whittier. The final two games will be played on Sunday in La Verne, Calif.
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