Written by Dave Dulberg, USC blog contributor
Jovan Vavic's men's water polo team opens up the 2011 home schedule this Saturday at 12 p.m. against the Cal Baptist Lancers. We caught up with the nine-time MPSF Coach of the Year to discuss what it will take for this year's squad to become the first in NCAA history to win four straight National Championships.
Dave Dulberg (DD): How long did you allow yourself to enjoy last year's title knowing the historical significance of what would be at stake this season?
Jovan Vavic (JV): Last year's championship game (photo below by San Francisco Chronicle) against California was a very special one for this program and I made sure to savor that moment for a long time. It's not very often a team wins three titles in a row.
(DD): Outside of it being a three-peat, what made last year's run unique from the other two championships?
(JV): We were the youngest team in the country last year and had lost 10 key players from that 2009 group. We had never gone into a season like that, where our starting lineup included three freshmen, one sophomore and no seniors. It was a really great challenge for us and to see so many young players perform at a high level spoke volumes about the caliber of this program.
(DD): Who are you leaning on this year as your team tries to enter collegiate immortality with a fourth straight title?
(JV): We are really fortunate because our leaders in 2011 were juniors last season. So for me, that responsibility will again lie with goalie Joel Dennerley, driver Peter Kurzeka and two-meter Matt Burton.
(DD): Are there any underclassmen that you expect to step in to a leadership role this season as well?
(JV): Redshirt sophomore driver Stephen Siri had a very productive offseason. He is a strong player for us, both physically and mentally. I think he has quickly become one of the leaders on this team.
(DD): Speaking of underclassmen, you have the pleasure of coaching your son, Nikola, who is currently a sophomore driver on the team. What has that been like for you?
(JV): I enjoy coaching him because he is one of the smartest players I have ever coached. But, he also can be very stubborn. Being a father (photo by Jon Soohoo), you know that you are not always going to get your child to do what you want them to do. But his stubbornness is also what makes him so good. Coaching him for me is a great joy.
(DD): The question has to be raised since you have achieved so much both at the Olympic and NCAA level, what else do you want to accomplish as a coach?
(JV): To be honest, I just love the daily grind and going to work every morning. Seeing young people join the program each year and improve is what it's about for me. They come to us with such great potential and having a hand in their development is what keeps me here. As for accomplishments, I would love to just go through this season and enjoy the ride. Winning the fourth one has never been done before and it will be a very difficult task for us.
(DD): Do you think this team can handle that daunting challenge?
(JV): Absolutely. There is not a doubt in my mind that this team is capable of competing for the NCAA title this year. We have a great team, full of great leaders and depth at every position. Not to mention, the best goalie in the country. Everything that we need to have in order to make a run is there.