No. 2 water polo prepares for Pac-12 rival Stanford

Warren Poh | Daily Trojan

After kicking off the season with 27-3 and 24-3 victories over the Labor Day weekend, the second-ranked men’s water polo team is already looking ahead to taking on No. 3 Stanford at home on Friday.

While the weekend games allowed the Trojans’ new freshmen and redshirts to get their first touches during a collegiate game, the team knows that it must be prepared to take on a full-strength Stanford team.

“I think this weekend was kind of a confidence builder,” said sophomore 2-meter Matt Maier, who was named the MPSF Newcomer of the Year in 2016. “It kind of built that we are a good team, so I think that will help us this year and going into the Stanford game.”

The Trojans have won five straight games against the Cardinal, and they have been looking forward to taking on their Pac-12 rivals again. But the team also knows that it must stay within the system that head coach Jovan Vacic has created, which has kept USC a powerhouse program for so many years.

“We always approach it one game at a time,” senior driver Blake Edwards said. “You know, we have a very long winning history and culture at this program, but it all comes down to treating each opponent we have with the same level of respect, studying our opponents and [making sure] that we are well-prepared going into every game.”

After the Trojans’ disappointing finish last season — an overtime loss to Cal in the NCAA Championship — the squad is ready to prove it can take the final step and bring home the program’s 10th national title, which would tie Stanford and UCLA for the second most all-time.

“We didn’t really lose much from last year,” Maier said. “I think we are a much better team from last year, so I think we will be able to show a lot of people that we are going to be a really good team.”

USC has already kicked off its season, but Stanford’s visit will mark the Trojans’ home opener. Playing at the Uytengsu Aquatics Center means the comfort of a home crowd and pool, and the team is looking forward to playing for fans, friends and family.

“We love playing at home, especially in front of the band and in front of our crowds,” Edwards said, “But Stanford games always bring in really big numbers, so everyone is just really excited for the support.”

Even with the support of a home crowd, the Trojans must be wary of a surging Cardinal team. Stanford is off to a perfect, 4-0 start to the season, and it already boasts three wins over ranked opposition — including a 21-5 drubbing of No. 10 Harvard, a 2016 NCAA semifinalist. In three games against top-25 teams, the Cardinal have outscored their opponents by a combined score of 61-10.

Last weekend may have been a good confidence booster, but the Trojans know that each game presents its own challenges, and they are locked in on being prepared for each one as they come.

“I just think we have to really focus on our systems and play in our style of play,” Edwards said. “I think if we can put that together, then we should get the result we are after. We know if we play our best water polo, no one can stop us this season.”

USC takes on Stanford at 5 p.m. at the Uytengsu Aquatics Center.