In A Nailbiter, Trojans Win Seventh MPSF Crown
Nov. 28, 2010
PALO ALTO, CALIF. - The No. 2 seeded USC men's water polo team endured an all-out battle with No. 4 seeded host Stanford to net an 8-7 win and claim the Trojans' seventh MPSF Championship today at Avery Aquatic Center. After leading through much of the game, USC got stuck behind in the late stages of regulation. Matt Burton equalized with a 5-meter penalty shot to force overtime, but neither team could maintain an upper hand during OT. That brought up sudden death, where the Trojan defense - anchored by a powerful Joel Dennerley in goal - stayed stubborn until USC eventually broke through with the game-winner from freshman Nikola Vavic in the second sudden-death frame. The 8-7 decision locks in the Trojans (26-2) with the automatic bid into the coming NCAA Tournament, where USC will set up defense of its back-to-back national championships next weekend in Berkeley.
USC entered the MPSF title match carrying a 10-game winning streak as the Trojans looked to avenge a midseason loss to the upset-minded Cardinal. Stanford had claimed a 5-3 win over USC during the teams' conference face-off in October in Palo Alto, but the Cardinal wound up fourth in the MPSF standings to put them in dire need of a championship win in order to make the NCAA Tournament. As it stands, the at-large bid into the postseason is largely unclaimed, with the tournament selection set to be announced tomorrow (Nov. 29). USC, however, will not have to sweat out the at-large announcement thanks to its comeback victory in the MPSF title match. The MPSF championship is USC's third in the past four years and seventh overall. The tournament win is also USC's third major tournament win this season, as the Trojans were victorious in the NorCal Tournament, SoCal Tournament and now the MPSF Tournament this year.
USC goalie Joel Dennerley entered the game needing six saves to bump Bozidar Damjanovic out of the No. 4 all-time position in career saves at USC. The junior doubled that count, posting 12 saves including a crucial stop with 54 seconds left in the first sudden death period. Peter Kurzeka and Matt Burton finished with two goals apiece to help charge up the Trojan offense.
The Trojans took a 3-1 lead in the game against the Cardinal, but the home team would fight back down the stretch and jump ahead 5-4 with five minutes to go in the fourth period of regulation. Stanford led for nearly five minutes of the fourth quarter before Matt Burton's 5-meter penalty shot tied it at 5-5 with 1:18 left. Dennerley had blocked a Forest Watkins shot and then sent the ball ahead, leading to the regulation tying breakaway, and the intensity cranked up further as both teams were desperately fighting for the win and the automatic NCAA berth.
In the first overtime, Peter Kurzeka scored on a breakaway with 1:56 left, before Jacob Smith tied it at 6-6 with seven seconds left on a penalty shot, earned by Jeffrey Schwimmer at two meters. Stanford's Sage Wright tied it at 7-7 in the second overtime on a 6-on-5 opportunity after Michael Rosenthal gave USC the lead with 2:15 remaining.
Even at 7-7 after the two overtime periods, sudden death came up to determine the champion. In the first sudden-death frame, both teams' defenses held strong to keep the match rolling along. In the next 3-minute stretch, USC finished things off and wrapped up the marathon match on a score from freshman Nikola Vavic, whose goal with 2:04 left on the clock clinched the big win for the Trojans.
The 2010 NCAA Tournament will be held Dec. 4-5 in Berkeley, Calif., where the Trojans will be looking to win a third straight national championship and claim their sixth title all-time.
2010 MPSF TOURNAMENT (Palo Alto, Calif.)
SAVES: Joel Dennerley (USC) 12, Brian Pingree (STAN) 11.