Three In A Row! Trojans Beat Cal For National Championship
Dec. 5, 2010
BERKELEY, CALIF. - It was a dark and stormy night. But when the fog lifted off the waters at Spieker Aquatics Center, it was the USC men's water polo team shining through with the Trojans' third straight national championship trophy held high. USC beat all odds to get to this year's title match - the sixth straight NCAA final for the Trojans - and pulled off yet another difficult feat in beating host California in overtime in the Bears' own pool. Four goals from junior Peter Kurzeka and a stubborn USC defense in overtime helped lock in a 12-10 victory for the Trojans, who captured their third straight national championship with the win, finishing the year with a 28-2 overall record.
It's the 114th overall national championship for USC as a university, and USC water polo becomes the first Trojan team to win three consecutive national championships since women's tennis did so 1978-80. The last men's water polo team to win three straight was Cal from 1990-92, and the Bears were also the last team to beat USC in an NCAA final with wins over the Trojan in 2006 and 2007. USC avenged those losses with its performance today in Berkeley, however. The Trojans had trailed by one with 5 minutes to go in regulation before the USC defense dug in and silenced the Bears for the next 11 minutes of action.
USC leveled things with 3:58 to go in regulation when Matt Burton earned a 5-meter penalty shot and Peter Kurzeka finished it off for his third of four goals in the game. Tied up 10-10, the Trojans got busy on the defensive end and coupled takeaways in the field with stops from Joel Dennerley in goal. Dennerley climbed his way to No. 2 all-time on USC's career saves chart with his seven-save effort today, while his defense stayed stingy in front the rest of the way. Dennerley secured the ball with 15 seconds left in regulation to help force overtime.
In the first overtime period, Kurzeka earned a 6-on-5 for the Trojans and then converted on the opportunity with a bullet that got USC ahead 11-10. A Trojan steal set USC off the other direction later, and Tobias Preuss hit Matt Burton for a spin move and a slick score with 1:29 to go, taking the Trojans up 12-10. Mace Rapsey squelched another Cal offensive series with a takeaway, and Cal misfired on its next 6-on-5 chance to preserve a two-goal lead for the Trojans entering the second and final overtime period. A Burton steal interrupted another Cal power play, and Michael Rosenthal slammed down a Cal shot later for Dennerley to haul in as the Trojan defense flexed its muscle down the stretch. Kurzeka threw up a resounding field block in the final minute to help lock in the junior as the NCAA Tournament MVP and put the finishing touches on the Trojans' national championship victory.
Rain fell solidly from the first whistle to well past the last, making for a foggy field of play. Cal took the early advantage in forcing USC to play catch-up in the first half with two goals from Peter Kurzeka and one from Nikola Vavic answering Bear goals to make it a 3-3 score entering halftime. A two-goal lead on scores from Mace Rapsey and Jeremy Davie to open the second half dispersed quickly in the third frame as the misty pool game way to a high-scoring period of play. Cal evened the score at 5-5 before Vavic struck from the post to make it 6-5. Cal rattled off back-to-back goals again to get the Bears back on time with 3:14 left in the third, but USC pinned up a pair next when Stephen Siri hauled in a rebound and found the back of the net to equalize before Kurzeka served up a 6-on-5 assist to Tobias Preuss for an 8-7 USC lead on the way into the fourth period of play.
Cal's Zach White wrapped a pair of goals out of set around a blast from Vavic to get it even again at 9-9, and the Bears jumped ahead 10-9 with a score from Ivan Rackov with 5:02 on the clock. The pressure was on, and the Trojans were prepared. USC quickly shook off the deficit, going on the defensive while generating the equalizer to get the game to overtime. USC's relatively young roster - boasting just three juniors with back-to-back national championship experience - was up to the task for overtime, and the Trojans teamed up to cap off their impressive 2010 campaign with the ultimate finish in USC's 12-10 overtime win to claim the national title.
Peter Kurzeka's four-goal day went along with three from freshman Nikola Vavic and one apiece from Mace Rapsey, Jeremy Davie, Stephen Siri, Tobias Preuss and Matt Burton. All those scorers except Kurzeka and Burton were playing in their first national championship game.
2010 NCAA CHAMPIONSHIPS (Berkeley, Calif.)
SAVES: Joel Dennerley (USC) 7, Justin Parsons (CAL) 10.