No. 1 water polo looks to extend five-game streak

With only one loss on the season, the top-ranked men’s water polo team looks to add yet another win to its current five-game winning streak on Saturday, when it faces UC Irvine. While the Trojans came out with the win in the two teams’ last meeting in September, they don’t necessarily want a repeat of that one-goal victory.

“I think we started a little bit flat in the last game, and we’re looking to change that,” senior utility James Walters said. “UCI is a good team, and I am not going to say we are expecting anything less from them. They just beat UCLA, who is a tough competitor for us as well, and they’re always going to give us a good game.”

Against UC Irvine in the Mountain Pacific Invitational last month, the Trojans had to battle from behind until the final two and a half minutes of the game, when a goal from sophomore 2-meter Matt Maier put USC ahead 10-9. After that, the defense held off the Anteaters until the final whistle, allowing the Trojans to move forward in the winners bracket of the tournament. Due to the tournament schedule, USC only found out it was playing UC Irvine the day before the match — the squad said it appreciates the extra preparation this time around.

“Last time, we didn’t really know we were playing them because it was between them and Santa Barbara,” senior driver Matteo Morelli said. “We’re prepared for them this week, and we know who their best players are. We know that their goalie is probably their best player, so we just have to move the ball around and score on him.”

Matej Matijevic, UC Irvine’s senior goalie, was named to the All-Golden Coast Conference first team, and has saved 206 shots in 16 games so far this season.

The Trojans have had time to hone in on Matijevic’s weaknesses this week. The team had no official games over the weekend, instead holding its annual alumni game. While still a match, the team had a weekend off from competition and refine its game plan.

“It helps us a lot because we had some extra time to train,” Walters said. “We had a full week where we could really go hard and get a lot of conditioning in, so this week we will be nice and rested and ready to go give it our all.”

One of the ways the Trojans plan on improving from their last meeting with UC Irvine is by sharpening their defense. This has been the team’s goal for the season, as it looks to complement a strong offense and Cutino Award-winning goalie.

“[UCI] had a couple of good shooters, and we were leaving them open,” Morelli said. “They had some pretty good shots that our goalie couldn’t block. Play better defense, and the offense is going to come.”

Walters echoed his teammate’s philosophy: letting the attack build out from the back.

“We are just looking to be solid on defense and play our game on offense,” he said. “[Then], the game will play out the way we want it to.”

But even as the Trojans make adjustments and perfect their approach, they are looking to keep things simple — and keep the streak going.

“There are lots of little things we’re going to work on,” Walters said. “We’re still playing water polo, we’re still doing our best and we’re still trying to win the game. That’s all it is.”

USC will look for its sixth win in a row at 1 p.m. on Saturday.