Trojans Open Postseason Play
THIS WEEK: The USC men's water polo team (17-6 overall, 5-3 in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation for fourth place), opens postseason play on Friday (Nov. 28) at the MPSF Tournament, at Belmont Plaza in Long Beach, against rival UCLA at 1 p.m. The Trojans are the fourth seed and the Bruins are the fifth seed. The tournament continues through Sunday (Nov. 30). USC won it last year and will likely need to win it again this year to advance to the NCAA Championships.
RANKINGS: USC was ranked No. 4 in the Nov. 18 American Water Polo Coaches Association Top 20 Poll, while UCLA was No. 5.
NEWS & NOTES: In the four previous MPSF tournaments, USC has never finished lower than third, placing first once, second twice and third once ... A USC loss in 1997 is likely to come down to the very end. Five of the six losses have been by one or two goals ... USC played much of the season without four potential starters: Mateo Juric missed the first eight games with a wrist injury, Luke Daniels missed the first half of the season with a wrist injury, Stever O'Rourke is out with a broken arm and Bjorn Nordstrom is on a Mormon mission ... The Trojans are actually playing better defense than a year ago when they finished 23-3 and second in the nation. Now, they're giving up 6.57 goals per game, compared to 6.69 in 1996 ... USC is 2-6 against the Top 3 ranked teams in the country (Pepperdine, Stanford and California) and 15-0 against the rest ... The Trojans won their third straight Northern California Tournament title this season.
FIRST-ROUND OPPONENT: UCLA (13-10, 4-4 in the MPSF for fifth place) is led by freshmen Sean Kern's 35 points. The Trojans have already defeated the Bruins three times this season. In the first meeting, USC won 12-7 in Westwood in a conference game on Oct. 3. Marko Pintaric had five points for the Trojans, who took a 6-2 halftime lead. Then, in the second round of the Nor-Cal Tournament on Oct. 18, Pintaric again scored five points in an 11-9 overtime win. Last weekend, Mateo Juric and Simun Cimerman each scored three points as the Trojans rallied in the fourth quarter for an 11-10 victory. Since 1979, the Trojans lead the series, 33-27-1.
JOHN WILLIAMS & JOVAN VAVIC: Co-head coaches John Williams and Jovan Vavic shared MPSF Coach of the Year honors in 1996 after leading USC to the conference championship as well as an overall record of 23-3 and a second-place national finish. Williams, a former USC All-American, is in his 25th year as head coach of the Trojans and has a record of 420-249-7 (.626). Vavic was promoted to co-head coach prior to 1995, and in the last three seasons, USC is 60-14 (.811).
MARKO PINTARIC: USC's newest addition from Croatia, junior driver Marko Pintaric has had little trouble adjusting to collegiate water polo. He is the Trojans, leading scorer with 50 goals and 53 points. He was named MPSF Player of the Week on Oct. 5 after scoring five points in a win against UCLA (Oct. 3). He also had five goals each against UC Davis (Sept. 26) and California (Oct. 19) and five-point performances against Long Beach State (Sept. 16) and a second time against UCLA (Oct. 18). Pintaric was named to the All-So-Cal Tournament first team after leading the Trojans in scoring with nine goals. He also led the Trojans in scoring at the Nor-Cal Tournament with 13 points. He opened the season with a 15-game scoring streak, the longest by a Trojan this season.
MATEO JURIC: After missing the first eight games with a wrist injury, senior driver Mateo Juric (Split, Croatia) came back at the top of his game and now has a total of 28 points. He scored nine points at the Nor-Cal Tournament, including the game-winner against Stanford in the championship. He had five points each in games against UMass (Oct. 18) and UC Irvine (Oct. 26). He has a current eight-game scoring streak. Juric is a two-time third team All-American.
SIMUN CIMERMAN: A second team All-American in 1996 and an honorable mention All-American in 1995, Simun Cimerman (Zagreb, Croatia) is having an another strong campaign and could earn first team honors in 1997. The senior driver, who has one of the best shots in the NCAA, has scored 34 points so far. He was named to the All-So-Cal Tournament first team. Cimerman had a season-best four points against both Pepperdine (Oct. 25) and UC San Diego (Nov. 1). He scored goals in seven straight midseason games.
JAMES CASTLE: A starter on the U.S. Junior National Team the last two years, sophomore James Castle (Hacienda Heights, Wilson HS) is one of USC,s standouts in 1997. He,s playing well with 34 points, including a career-high four goals against UC Davis (Sept. 26). Castle surpassed his 1996 total of 17 points after just nine games. He was named to the All-So-Cal Tournament second team. He had a six-game scoring streak in the middle of the season.
ALLEN BASSO: Sophomore driver Allen Basso (Lake Forest, El Toro HS), who scored three points as a 1996 freshman, has been a major factor as a 1997 sophomore. He is fifth on the team with 21 points and hit a pair of two-pointers in a game against UCLA (Oct. 18).
GOALIES: The Trojans have not just one, but two quality goalies in sophomores Richard McEvoy (Pembroke Pines, FL, Cooper City HS) and Darin Smith (Huntington Beach, Marina HS). McEvoy has appeared in 18 games and has made 126 saves. He had a career-high 15 against UC Irvine on Oct. 26. Smith has played in 13 games and has led Troy in saves on seven occasions. He has 55 saves overall, with a season-best nine against both UC Santa Barbara (Nov. 2) and Long Beach State (Nov. 9).
FRESHMEN: Several redshirt freshmen have contributed in their first season of playing collegiate water polo. Two-meter man Sean Hylton (Costa Mesa, Costa Mesa HS) has been the top scorer of the group with 21 goals - the most by a USC freshman since 1990 when George Belcher scored 35. Two-meter man Sean Stuart (Sacramento, Jesuit HS) has scored 15 points, driver J.J. Arden (Los Angeles, Harvard-Westlake HS) has four goals and driver Jim Farley (San Clemente, San Clemente HS) has one goal. The only true freshman who has logged playing time this season, driver Grant McCann (Laguna Beach, Laguna Beach HS), has scored one goal.
1996 MPSF CHAMPIONSHIPS: The Trojans captured their first MPSF Tournament championship at California on Nov. 28-Dec. 1, 1996. In the final, USC routed Stanford, 12-5, as Hrvoje Cizmic scored four goals and Simun Cimerman had three. In the semifinals, the Trojans edged Pacific, 9-8, and in the first round, they defeated Pepperdine, 12-9.
COACH WILLIAMS SAYS: "This could be the most competitive MPSF Tournament ever. The first-day game between the fourth and fifth seeds is traditionally the most exciting of the day, so we,re looking forward to our matchup with UCLA. We need to win the tournament to go to the NCAA Championships. The great thing is that anything can happen. We,re looking forward to the challenge."