Senior Day Success For No. 3 Trojans, Taking Out No. 5 Cal 7-6|
Nov. 15, 2014
LOS ANGELES, CALIF. -- The No. 3 USC men's water polo team saw its seniors make a statement in their last career game at their home Uytengsu Aquatics Center. Senior Marc Vonderweidt saved up a season-high three goals for today's crucial test against No. 5 California. Fellow senior Kostas Genidounias matched that mark, and freshman Mihajlo Milicevic served up what would stand as the winner in USC's 7-6 victory over the visiting Golden Bears. Now 21-4 overall, USC has sewn up the No. 3 seed into the coming MPSF Tournament with a final 6-2 finish in conference play.
Today's regular-season finale was replete with important postseason implications. A loss could well have knocked the Trojans out of the NCAA picture, but a win much improves USC's standing for the MPSF Tournament and in the push for a run at a seventh consecutive NCAA Championship.
The game had all the makings of a nailbiter, opening as a true defensive battle. USC goalie McQuin Baron and Cal's Jon Sibley matched each other save for save during the first half, while USC's seniors took care of the offensive action at the other end for the Trojans. Cal drew first blood in earning a 5-meter penalty shot just over a minute into the game, converting the opportunity to take an early 1-0 lead. Baron slammed away a Cal 6-on-5 chance later, and USC would ring up a power play finish from Vonderweidt to equalize at 1-1 with 2:18 on the clock in the first frame.
To open the second period, USC again went up on a 6-on-5, and again it was Vonderweidt with the searing score. He rattled home the go-ahead goal just as the teams pulled even. The USC defense put a stop to Cal's next two power play chances. Senior Rex Butler slammed down a save on the line to squelch the Bears' shot on their fourth 6-on-5 action of the day. Cal would make good on its fifth power play, though, pulling even at 2-2 with 3:58 to go in the half. Another Trojan defensive stand against the power play helped send the ball the other way, where Mac Carden earned a 5-meter penalty shot for the Trojan cause. Senior Genidounias stepped up and rifled it through to nudge USC ahead 3-2. In the final minute of the half, however, Cal was granted one last 6-on-5 and netted it to make it 3-3 for halftime.
The Trojan defense was in total control of the third period of play. A gigantic save from Baron on a Cal power play was an early spark, and after the Bears misfired on an even attack, Baron launched the long bomb to a streaking Genidounias. The senior promptly put away the counterattack strike, and USC was up 4-3 just past the midway point of the third. After a steal from Vonderweidt and then a power play earned by Nick Bell, senior Vonderweidt hit hero status for the Trojans with a rocket that padded USC's lead out to two, up 5-3 on the Golden Bears with the senior's first hat trick of the year. USC's defense took care of the rest, and the Trojans took that 5-3 advantage into the fourth period of play.
After the teams each traded shot clock violations -- hinting at more stingy defense on both ends -- Genidounias unleashed a ridiculous shot from near midpool. Up big in the water, the goal-savvy senior faked first, then catapulted in a ripper as he sunk, and the Trojans were holding a 6-3 lead on the Golden Bears with 6:29 left to play. The three-goal scoring run and three-goal hole woke up the Cal offense, which then converted on back-to-back counterattack goals, transitioning with great success to chop down USC's lead to 6-5 in just over a minute's span. Twenty seconds later, it was USC freshman Mihajlo Milicevic who stepped up to the plate. Milicevic whipped in a crosscage blast that put USC ahead 7-5, but there was still plenty of water polo left to be played. Cal would go up on back-to-back power plays next, converting on the first to cut it to 7-6 but going bar-out on the next. USC's defense clamped down the rest of the way to hold tight to that slim margin and haul in the crucial 7-6 victory at the final horn. Before the game, USC honored its four graduating seniors, Rex Butler, Kostas Genidounias, Max Hurst-Mendoza and Marc Vonderweidt -- all members of past USC NCAA Championship teams and all of whom played key roles in today's win for their final appearance at USC's Uytengsu Aquatics Center.
Now locked in as the No. 3 seed in the MPSF Tournament, USC will open the tourney against the No. 6 seed at 11:30 a.m. on Friday (Nov. 21) in Long Beach, Calif. The Trojans won the tournament last season as the No. 4 seed en route to winning their sixth straight national championship.
#3 USC 7, #5 California 6
SAVES: McQuin Baron (USC) 11, Jon Sibley (CAL) 11.