Trojan Comeback Comes Up Short Of NCAA Crown|
Dec. 7, 2014
LA JOLLA, CALIF. -- Veterans of the NCAA title match, making their 10th consecutive appearance in the final, the Trojans certainly knew what they were getting into when they squared off against rival UCLA today. This time, the Bruins held the top seed while the No. 3 seeded USC men's water polo team had fought its way into the 2014 NCAA Championship final by virtue of an epic sudden-death semifinal win over Stanford the day before. This time, the Trojans constructed another impressive comeback rally, digging out of a three-goal hole in the fourth period of play. But this time, the Trojans did not finish out the day holding the NCAA championship trophy aloft. UCLA would manage a late goal to break the late tie, and USC's last-ditch shot did not hit its mark, leaving the Bruins with the 9-8 victory and the 2014 national championship at Canyonview Aquatic Center in La Jolla, Calif.
The loss snapped a six-year run of NCAA championships won by the Trojans, while the Bruins captured their first title since 2004. USC had won seven titles of its own since UCLA last held up the trophy, but today it was the Bruins who broke back on the scene. The Trojans did not make it easy on their rivals, though. Trailing 7-4 entering the fourth period, USC's seniors took over. USC's all-time leading scorer Kostas Genidounias scored on the Trojans' first possession of the frame, and Marc Vonderweidt cut the lead down to one minutes later. Genidounias delivered again to equalize at 7-7, and the intensity of this NCAA title match ratcheted up immensely. UCLA fired back just second later, only to see Genidounias find Vonderweidt for a sizzling equalizer that had it locked up 8-8 with 2:50 on the clock.
Neither team could add to its tally for the next couple minutes, and UCLA was just a breath away from having the shot clock run out on a late possession when the pass went in to two-meters and Gordon Marshall had the finishing touch to bump the Bruins ahead 9-8 with 34 seconds left. USC looked for another touch of Genidounias' last-gasp heroics -- the senior had scored to force overtime and also delivered the sudden-death strike to win it all in the semifinal -- and he was eventually able to create enough space to take the shot, but it was field blocked by a UCLA defender and the Bruins would hang on for the win.
USC finishes the year with a 24-7 overall record, and five Trojans earned places on NCAA All-Tournament teams at the close of competition. For the third straight year, Kostas Genidounias landed himself on the First Team, this year alongside fellow senior Rex Butler. Earning Second Team honors were three young Trojans in sophomore Nick Bell and freshmen McQuin Baron and Mihajlo Milicevic.
USC had brought nine freshmen to this 2014 NCAA Championship, and the youth movement certainly made their marks. Bell and Milicevic each scored goals today, having scored two apiece in the semifinal. Baron hauled in six saves in the championship, following up an 18-save performance in the semifinal. Two other freshmen also scored in today's title match, with James Walters having opened USC's scoring with a blast in the second period and Matteo Morelli rifling one in to open the second half.
Walters' goal ended almost 11 minutes of scoring silence by the Trojans, who went behind 2-0 to the Bruins in the first period of play. USC would fall back behind 3-1 next, but the freshman trend started to build for USC when Milicevic hammered one home on the 6-on-5 to bring it to a one-goal margin again. Down 4-2 at halftime, USC came out of the gates with Morelli whipping in another power play goal for the Trojans early in the half. UCLA's hot-handed Danny McClintick would strike back-to-back next for the Bruins, though, and USC found itself in a 6-3 hole. Up again on a 6-on-5, USC saw Butler deliver one of his four assists in setting up Bell for the blast that gave USC a boost to 6-4. But a blunder at the buzzer saw UCLA manage a score from mid-pool, and USC was back behind by three on the way into the fourth. That's where USC's championship-savvy seniors Genidounias and Vonderweidt tag-teamed a powerful rally for the Trojans to drag the game back even for the first time since it all began. USC's hopes of another overtime victory were dashed, however, by the Bruins' late score that held up for the 9-8 final decision.
Genidounias wraps his illustrious USC playing career as the Trojans' all-time top scorer with 261 career goals. Butler finishes up ranked No. 25 all-time with 116 career goals. After contributing a career-best 33 goals this season, Vonderweidt ends things with 68 career goals. USC's fourth graduating senior, Max Hurst-Mendoza, scored 40 in his USC career. This may be the first time that that foursome will finish a season without an NCAA championship ring, but the NCAA experience that they brought to the team this year was instrumental in driving the Trojans -- considered underdogs for the first time in years -- back to the title match. Freshman goalie McQuin Baron set a program record this year in pinning up 288 saves this season.
2014 NCAA CHAMPIONSHIPS - Canyonview Aquatic Center (La Jolla, Calif.)
 UCLA 9,  USC 8
SAVES: McQuin Baron (USC) 6, Garrett Danner (UCLA) 8.