After a close 10-9 victory against the formerly top-ranked Stanford in the championship match of the Mountain Pacific Invitational last Sunday, No. 1 USC will take on two more top-10 opponents this weekend in No. 8 Long Beach State and No. 6 Pepperdine.
The Trojans are coming off a strong weekend, not only securing a championship win but also sweeping the MPSF weekly honors. Freshman goalie Nic Porter was named Newcomer of the Week for the second time this season, while sophomore driver Jacob Mercep earned USC’s first Player of the Week honor of the season.
Following the accomplishments of the past week, the team shifted its focus to prepare for Long Beach State and Pepperdine, drawing on strategies that have contributed to its prior successes.
“We always have a specific preparation,” Mercep said. “[Head coach Jovan Vavic] does his job and the other coaches do their job very well. They break down the other team, and what they are trying to do, and when the game comes, we are ready for it and we know what’s coming.”
The Men of Troy will face their first test of the weekend when they visit Long Beach State on Saturday. The two teams met at last weekend’s Mountain Pacific Invitational, where the Trojans bested the 49ers 14-8. Although USC has an all-time record of 70-15 against Long Beach, last year’s meeting between the two teams was quite close, with the Trojans narrowly defeating the 49ers in overtime at home.
To come out on top against Long Beach, the Trojans will need to play well at both ends of the pool. A cohesive defensive effort will be necessary to counter the 49ers offense, led by redshirt junior attacker Austin Stewart, who boasts a team-high 33 goals this season. Capitalizing on offensive opportunities will also be important, as sophomore goalie Marwan Darwish has a .434 save percentage.
After returning from Long Beach, the Trojans will face Pepperdine on Sunday. The Waves enter the weekend with an 11-8 overall record after a sixth-place finish in the Mountain Pacific Invitational. Pepperdine’s leading scorer is senior center Chris Dilworth, who has put up 43 goals so far this season. His performance has not gone unnoticed by the Trojan coaching staff, who have focused on defense in practice this week.
“Defending fast breaks and opponents’ frontcourt offense is always our main emphasis, and I think we will only grow in our form during this season,” Mercep said of the team’s preparation.
The Trojans plan to apply the lessons they learned in last weekend’s victory against Stanford, which handed the Trojans their only loss of the season, to this weekend’s matches against opponents of similar calibers.
“Certainly we learned that we are tougher than we thought we were,” Mercep said of the Trojans’ tournament performance. “Whether things went good or bad, we showed character, and showed that we are really strong, collective and we stick together. We showed that we really can perform the way we set it up at the meetings, the way we agree upon doing.”
Despite their No. 1 ranking, the Men of Troy continue to consider their potential for growth.
“[Our play] can always be better,” Mercep said. “We are always trying to improve every day. We really strive towards excellence.”
The weekend’s first opportunity for the Trojans will be Saturday at 1 p.m. at Long Beach State. The Trojans will host Sunday’s 1 p.m. match against Pepperdine at Uytengsu Aquatic Center.