2013 USC Men's Water Polo Season Outlook
Sep 5, 2013
It is said that Pat Riley coined - and trademarked - the term "three-peat."
Does anyone know if someone has the rights to "six-peat" yet?
Jovan Vavic has less than three months now to file his paperwork.
Vavic and his 2013 Trojans team carry a 31-game win streak into this season and are the proud owners of a record-setting five consecutive NCAA men's water polo championships. That's where the trademark office comes in.
A Trojan six-pack string of national titles is well within reach. Strength, skill, smarts and stingy defense are the hallmarks of this 2013 USC team. That, coupled with a culture of winning created from victorious season after victorious season, puts the Trojans as the decidedly daunting team to beat once again. But considering no one has managed to beat USC in over a year, 12-time National Coach of the Year Vavic and his troops have nothing but winning expectations for the season to come.
"The winning really is very contagious, just like losing can be," Vavic said.
Not that losing has been in USC's vocabulary as of late.
"We honestly believe we're going to win. We go into every game thinking we're going to win," said Vavic, who has been on-hand for all eight USC men's NCAA championships and four women's titles. "Still, you're always worried about complacency. You never know how a team is going to respond. It's the most dangerous thing in sports, and that's why it's so difficult to win back to back. But I feel that this group has been very good at responding and preparing each other to create an atmosphere of winning."
USC goalie James Clark, for example, has never experienced a loss as a Trojan. He began his USC career in the cage last season, when the Trojans rolled to a perfect 29-0 record and capped the season with a dramatic NCAA Championship win over crosstown rival UCLA in USC's home pool. This year will be his final season at USC, joining a senior class of Trojan talent that includes Jeremy Davie, Zach Lucas, Mace Rapsey, Nikola Vavic and Connor Virjee. Those five all entered Troy as true freshmen in 2010 -- the "three-peat" season. Now, they're the veterans looking to match their predecessors' pile of championship rings.
"Realistically, I think in the history of USC water polo there has never been this good a group of freshman that joined us three years ago and beat Cal in the national championship," Jovan Vavic said. "Nikola, Mace, Jeremy and Connor all really played a key role in winning that match, and now they're better, stronger, and by far the best senior class we've ever had."
High praise from a man who has seen two previous senior classes close down their Trojan careers with a complete set of NCAA championship rings. What's more, Vavic sees National Player of the Year potential for five different Trojans this season.
Nikola Vavic won the award last season, following a 2012 campaign in which he set the USC record for single-season goals and climbed up to No. 4 all-time in scoring at Troy. He's 48 goals away from taking over the top notch, but as USC's assists leader in 2012, he's already proven he's perfectly content to set up his teammates for success as well. Nikola also happens to be one of five returning All-Americans to the Trojan roster. Coach Vavic believes Nikola, Clark, Davie, Rapsey and junior Kostas Genidounias are a five-man front of potential top players this season.
Clark -- a 2012 Olympian with Australia -- has controlled the cage to near perfection. Vavic touts him as the team's key to success.
"Our biggest strength is that we have the best goalie in the country," Vavic said, referring to Clark as the defensive anchor for the Trojans.
The All-American tandem is as well balanced as it gets. Clark in the cage. Rapsey with a rifle arm and a stubborn defensive hand. Davie a two-meter beast. Vavic a left-handed sniper and steals specialist. Genidounias an unstoppable perimeter threat.
The race for the Heisman Trophy of water polo -- the Peter J. Cutino Award -- will be heated. But that's not the race the Trojans are most interested in winning. It's all about the splashdown. When the final buzzer sounds on the 2013 season, there's only one place the Trojans care to be: in the water, all together, celebrating a national championship for the sixth straight year.
"Every year, in the beginning of the year you have so many teams with high hopes. There are five or six teams that legitimately can win a championship," Vavic said. "Then it becomes survival of the fittest. Teams can quit on a coach or quit on each other.
"What I find is very important when you have guys on the team who want it more and that drive carries the team," Vavic said. "They are hungry to get the job done and create and atmosphere of winning."
It certainly takes a united front to accomplish the kind of success the Trojans have enjoyed. For Vavic, defensive cohesion is at the core. With Clark first in line for cleanup duty in the cage, USC also has backup goalies Aleck Ryner, Paul Mitre and Clark Barry in the mix. In the field, defensive savvy bubbles over with Davie, Rapsey, Vavic and Virjee joined by Lucas and redshirt junior Rex Butler.
At the attacking end, Davie anchors a potent two-meter game. Max Hurst-Mendoza and Chase Watson are back for more in set as well, with freshman Jon Walters set to factor in as an immediate impact for the Trojans in the middle.
"I like the way our two-meter game looks," Vavic said. "We're four deep in that position, and I think Jeremy and Jon can be the best duo in the country. Jon is going to play a really big role for us offensively at two-meters.
"We also have great outside shooting. So if teams press us, we have a great two-meter attack. And if they drop, we have great outside shooting."
Nikola Vavic and Genidounias combined for a whopping 151 goals last season. Genidounias served up the game-winning strike for the Trojans in the 2012 NCAA Championship game. Rapsey and Davie provided 30 and 29 goals, respectively, last year. Zach Lucas, Rex Butler, Connor Virjee and Marc Vonderweidt all delivered at least 10 goals in 2012. Butler, Vavic and Virjee all wield incredibly dangerous left hands.
"Our lefties, Nikola, Rex and Connor, they all can shoot the ball really well," Vavic said of his offensive onslaught. "Connor and Nikola can also post up, and Mace and Kostas are also great outside shooters. Then we have guys like Marc Vonderweidt, Russell Renteria and Ivan Kustic. All three guys will see significant playing time, and all three are great outside shooters."
The 2013 Trojans will also welcome further reinforcements in the form of a younger crew of talent that will be called to duty to add that USC staple of depth to the gameplan. Mac Carden saw solid action last year and is back for more, along with fellow redshirt sophomores Eugene Chong, David Lim and Chase Watson and junior Matt Schwartz. Emery Molnar was sidelined last year and will be in line for his first competition as a Trojan alongside last year's redshirts Liam Burke, Park Eddy, Luke Felton, Charlie McBee and Peter Simon. True freshman Nick Bell has also been tapped for action in 2013 as the Trojans dig in to defend their string of titles and become the first collegiate water polo team to pull off a "six-peat."