The USC men’s water polo team will make its long anticipated return to the Uytengsu Aquatics Center on Saturday with a doubleheader against No. 11 Princeton and Whittier College.
The Trojans are coming off a loss to UCLA in the NorCal Tournament, their first in 42 games. Their 9-8 defeat pushed them down to the No. 2 ranking nationally.
“It was one of those games where things just didn’t go our way,” head coach Jovan Vavic said. “Our effort was there all the way down until the wire.”
The game against Princeton, one of the better schools historically in water polo, will be the Trojans’ first chance to start a new winning streak. Their loss to UCLA ended their impressive 41-game streak, the longest in the nation and just 5 short of the USC record.
Vavic, for the record, seems proud of the way his team is currently handling a rare defeat.
“We’ve had a couple of good days of practice and team meetings, and I’m encouraged by the way the team has handled it,” Vavic said.
One issue for the Trojans in that defeat, and all season really, has been the up-and-down health of freshman Jon Walters, one of the newcomers who was expected to become a key contributor for the five-time champions this fall.
“Walters has been injured since the beginning of the season,” Vavic said. “He only played five minutes (against UCLA).”
Luckily, with Vavic’s expert touch, the Trojans have been turning this severe negative into a positive.
“Not having him is giving other guys an opportunity to step up and play,” Vavic said. “We’re getting to try out some other players that we otherwise wouldn’t.”
Those newcomers off the bench, and the team in general, certainly will enjoy returning home following a grueling three weekends that saw the Trojans play 11 games on the road, including multiple games against ranked opponents.
Following the Princeton match, the Trojans will take a quick break before returning to the pool and playing the Whittier Poets. That game will mark the second time this season that the Trojans have gone up against the Poets. The two met earlier in the month at the Inland Empire Classic, and USC dominated whistle to whistle, winning 21-4 to improve their record to 3-0 all-time against Whittier.
The Trojans will enter this game at the unusually “low” rank of second nationally. USC had held the top mark in the nation since November 2011 before this week, and will be looking to regain the top spot as soon as possible. Vavic, for one, is hoping that the loss can recenter his team.
“Time will tell and I certainly hope it will increase their focus … make them more hungry,” Vavic said.
Vavic’s son, standout senior Nikola Vavic enters this weekend second on the USC all-time scoring list, just 16 goals away from taking over the top spot, which is currently held by Jurai Zatovic, who compiled 220 goals in his four seasons for the Trojans.
Following this weekend’s matchups, the Trojans will wait a week before hosting UC Irvine on Oct. 5, their last tune-up before heading to the Anteaters’ home pool for the SoCal Tournament.
Follow us on Twitter @dailytrojan