SIX-PEAT IS COMPLETE!!|
Dec. 8, 2013
PALO ALTO, CALIF. -- The USC men's water polo team etched its name into a new chapter of the history books today, winning an unprecedented sixth consecutive national championship with a poised and powerful overtime comeback win over Pacific. The Trojans shrugged off a two-goal deficit in the fourth period of play and wound up with senior Nikola Vavic plugging in his fourth goal of the day with the overtime winner. Clutch late defense by the Trojans sealed the deal on a 12-11 win for USC, which notches its ninth NCAA title in program history and the 121st all-time for the university. The Trojans are the first collegiate water polo team ever to win six consecutive crowns, and finish the 2013 season with a 28-4 overall record.
The top seeds in the tourney for their ninth straight trip into NCAA action, the Trojans were the clear favorites, but they would have to contend with a hungry Pacific team that was tasting the NCAa tournament for the first time since 1993. The No. 2 seeded Tigers were indeed a force to contend with, especially with the arm of Balazs Erdely on their side. Erdelyi blasted seven of Pacific's 11 goals, and Pacific goalie Alex Malkis would haul in 17 saves, but that combination still could not trip up the steamrolling Trojans and their championship experience.
Pacific had USC in a two-goal hole during the four period, first thanks to Erdelyi's third 5-meter penally shot of the game. After USC's Rex Butler pulled USC within one on a 6-on-5 finish, Erdely would make it 10-8 Pacific with 3:31 to go in regulation. But still, the Trojans were undeterred. Instead, USC found its championship gear. Not 20 seconds later, Nikola Vavic buried a power play bullet to light the fuse. Kostas Genidounias would then feed Ivan Kustic on the left side. Kustic nailed his shot crosscage from a seemingly impossible angle, and the Trojans had the game locked up 10-10 with 2:46 to go. Genidounias threw up a field block for the Trojan defense next, and with 2:00 on the clock Vavic found his freshman year roommate Jeremy Davie on the post for a sizzling score that gave the Trojans their first lead since four minutes into the first period of play. USC looked in position to finish it out, but Pacific was granted one more 6-on-5 with 29 ticks left in regulation. Erdelyi came through again, tallying his seventh and making it even for the seventh time in the game. The 11-11 lockup would hold through to the buzzer, and the Trojans were heading to overtime for the fourth time this season.
This is when the Trojans made themselves at home in Stanford's Avery Aquatic Center -- site of USC's 2008 championship that started this winning run of titles. USC was in control in the first frame of OT, keeping it even for those three minutes. In the next OT frame, Vavic stepped up again. He'd ring up a solo shot in the first minute of the period to take the Trojans ahead 12-11, and the USC defense did the rest. Or rather, USC goalie James Clark shouldered the load. The senior put a stop to back-to-back Pacific 6-on-5 opportunities to silence the Tigers, and Genidounias nabbed one final steal to seal the deal on USC's sixth consecutive national championship.
Nikola Vavic finished the day with four goals, closing out his USC career with 254 career goals as the Trojans' all-time scoring leader. Jeremy Davie notched his 129th career goal as a Trojan to finish up ranked No. 17 all-time, and Mace Rapsey, who didn't score today but was the warrior of the weekend in playing through a rib injury to close out his USC career with a fourth straight NCAA title. Senior Connor Virjee can claim the same status, a four-time NCAA champ in four seasons as a Trojan. Rex Butler and Ivan Kustic both tallied two big goals today in their third NCAA championship game, and Zach Lucas nailed a huge one early in the match as he completes his final season as a Trojan. Goalie James Clark made the biggest stand of his Trojan career, bowing out of his final season as an NCAA champion with a career-high 17 saves. With 263 saves collected this year, Clark has hauled in the second most single-season saves in USC history, just five away from the all-time high of 268 set by Andrew Tinseth in 1993.
Head coach Jovan Vavic now has his 13th national championship, having led the USC men to nine titles and the USC women to four. His 13 crowns makes him the winningest coach in USC history, topping track and field coach Dean Cromwell's 12 national championships at Troy.
At tournament's end, USC's Kostas Genidounias and Nikola Vavic were named to the NCAA All-Tournament First Team, while James Clark, Jeremy Davie and Connor Virjee were selected to the NCAA All-Tournament Second Team.
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2013 NCAA CHAMPIONSHIPS (Palo Alto, Calif.)
CHAMPIONSHIP MATCH - Dec. 8, 2013
SAVES: James Clark (USC) 17, Alex Malkis (PAC) 17.