After ending their regular season with a heart-wrenching, double-overtime defeat to crosstown rival UCLA, the five-time defending champions and fourth-ranked men’s water polo team head up to Stockton, Calif. this weekend to begin post-season play at the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation Tournament.
In the quarterfinals on Friday, USC (23-4, 5-3 Mountain Pacific Sports Federation) will be matched up with No. 5 Cal (16-7, 4-4 MPSF) for the second time this year. In the two teams’ first meeting up in Berkeley, the Trojans defeated Cal 11-9 in come-from-behind fashion.
Last year, USC, who was slated as the No. 1 seed, defeated the Golden Bears in the championship game of the conference tournament, 9-5. They got to the title game after defeating Stanford, 11-10, in the semifinals, and UC Santa Barbara, 17-9, in the quarterfinals.
If the Trojans pull off another victory against the Golden Bears, then on Saturday they would face the winner of the game between No. 1 Pacific and No. 7 UC Irvine.
A matchup with Pacific, who will have home-pool advantage as the hosts of the tournament, could help redeem the Trojans after they lost on the road to the Tigers in conference play, 10-6, earlier this month. The Tigers have a strong asset in MPSF leading scorer Balazs Erdelyi.
Before looking too far ahead, the Trojans will have to overcome a tough Cal team that narrowly lost its regular season finale to its Bay Area rivals in No. 1 Stanford, 11-10.
Cal had three players with 30-plus goals on the year including junior attacker Aleksa Saponjic, sophomore attacker Colin Mulcahy and senior attacker Collin Smith. Senior goalie Michael Boggan is averaging just more than seven saves per match.
“We always talk about [how] defense wins championships. Going into the MPSF tournament it’s all going to be about defense,” senior two-meter Jeremy Davie said. “We got one of the best offenses in the country, [and] we know we’re going to get the job done at that end. It’s all defense from here.”
The Trojans have netted 419 goals this season led by a 70-goal scorer in junior driver Kostas Genidounias. USC’s all-time leading goal scorer senior driver Nikola Vavic isn’t very far behind with 67 goals.
After defeating the Trojans last week, UCLA got the No. 1 and will take on No. 6 UC Santa Barbara in their first-round matchup.
USC will begin defending their MPSF tournament championship in the pool against the Golden Bears on Friday at 3 p.m. If the Trojans win their first two games, they will play for the conference championship at the same time on Sunday.
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