The men’s water polo team managed to earn the No. 2 seed in the NCAA tournament in Palo Alto this weekend in their 14th consecutive trip to the tournament. The seeding is a testament to their 28-3 season, despite two consecutive losses in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation Tournament two weeks ago.
In the tournament, USC is looking to conquer its 10th national championship at Stanford’s Avery Aquatic Center. The Trojans earned a first round bye, and their first match will be in the semifinals against the winner of the UCLA-George Washington quarterfinal.
Stanford will also play in the semifinal round of the tournament, facing the winner of the UC San Diego vs. Long Beach State quarterfinal match.
Sophomore driver Marko Vavic said the team is anticipating a matchup against UCLA.
“We’ve just been studying [UCLA} a lot, preparing for their weaknesses in their games and how to take advantage so that we can make it to the finals,” Vavic said.
The Trojans have scouted Bruins’ freshman attacker Ashworth Molthen and sophomore attacker Nicolas Saveljic, who Vavic said is a “great shooter.”
After a disappointing 4-7 loss to the Bruins in the MPSF tournament, the Trojans are learning from their downfalls to prepare for Saturday. The team is working on being more organized and cleaning up their counter attacks.
“We get a lot of advantages that we don’t capitalize on the way we should,” Vavic said.
Freshman goalie Nic Porter adds that the team was not happy with their offense in the MPSF tournament.
“Particularly against UCLA, only scoring 4 goals, we were pretty unlucky on defense a few times but they’re situations where if we are on our game a bit more, watching the ball, anticipating what’s going to happen then we can stop them,” Porter said.
Against both Cal and UCLA, the Trojans started the games well. In the Cal match, the team built a 9-6 lead in the first three quarters but the Bears came back and won, 10-9
The next day versus UCLA, the Trojans were able to keep the Bruins quiet for a whole quarter, posting a 1-0 lead at the end of the first period. The key for USC heading into the NCAA tournament is to see its solid opening performance through the full game.
Both Vavic and Porter agree that team chemistry is the biggest thing the team has improved on over the course of the season. Especially since over half the team was replaced from last season.
“The coaching staff has been able to integrate us all together and we’re playing some good water polo,” Vavic said. “Everyone is great mates out of the water as well, which is important for success. Full credit to the coaching staff for bringing in a good group of players and getting [them] to play well together.”
The Trojans enter the NCAA tournament confident, despite the nerves of the high pressure situation.
“Personally, I don’t really get too nervous, I get energetic,” Vavic said. “But I think the hardest thing whether you get nervous or whether you get excited, is to stay focused on the moment because in big games like this, the game is so short that opportunities pass you by so quickly.
Porter echoed what Vavic said.
“We’re so well prepared for these games that naturally there are going to be some nerves there but we’re so confident in the game plan that we have and the players that we have,” Porter said. “Once the game gets started, you’re in the zone and you need to do your job. For us that means getting this national championship.”
The Trojans semifinal game will be played at 5 p.m. Saturday. The championship game is slated for 3 p.m. Sunday. Both matches will be hosted by Stanford at Avery Aquatic Center in Palo Alto and will be streamed on NCAA Live.