Men's Water Polo
    No. 1 USC Takes Aim At Third Straight NorCal Crown
    The Trojans are looking for another tournament title this weekend in Northern California.
    The Trojans are looking for another tournament title this weekend in Northern California.

    Sept. 12, 2012

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    THIS WEEK
    The top-ranked Trojans head north this weekend to defend its back-to-back NorCal Tournament titles, aiming to lock in on a third straight crown at the competitive early-season tourney. USC carries a 4-0 overall record into this weekend's competition at Stanford's Avery Aquatic Center. The Trojans open up against Pomona-Pitzer at 8 a.m. on Saturday (Sept. 15) and will face either Pepperdine or Long Beach State in the remainder of bracket play that afternoon. Two wins on Saturday would put the Trojans in a 10:50 a.m. semifinal on Sunday (Sept. 16). The NorCal Championship game is set for 6:15 p.m. that evening, preceded by a 4:50 p.m. third-place match.

    RANKINGS
    USC opened 2012 as the No. 1 team in the land -- deference to the Trojans' historic four straight NCAA titles -- and remains there as teams enter the third week of 2012 competition. The Trojans are bracketed with No. 8 Pepperdine and No. 9 Long Beach State, and Pomona-Pitzer is receiving voted. The rest of the NorCal Tournament field includes all ranked teams: No. 2 UCLA, No. 3 California, No. 4 Stanford, No. 5 UC Santa Barbara, No. 6 UC Irvine, No. 7 Pacific, No. 10 LMU, No. 11 UC San Diego, No. 12 UC Davis, No. 14 Santa Clara and No. 18 Concordia.

    NORCAL TOURNEY NOTES
    The NorCal Tournament has traditionally offered one of the best early looks at the nation's top teams. This year proves to be more of the same. Including tournament host Stanford, all nine Mountain Pacific Sports Federation teams will be included, along with competitive teams from around the country. Air Force is the only non-California-based team in the mix, joined by UC Davis, Concordia, Santa Clara, LMU and UC San Diego to round out the 16-team field. All told, the top 12 ranked teams in the nation will be in the mix, with 15 total teams ranked in the top-20. Last year, USC tore its way to a second straight NorCal crown, opening with a win over West Valley JC before topping UC Irvine 11-4 to earn a spot in the semifinals. There, the Trojans beat Stanford in its biggest win over the Cardinal since 2008 with a 12-5 decision. That put USC up against UCLA in the title match for the second straight year, and the Trojans rolled to a 10-8 win to claim the NorCal championship.

    2012 NorCal Tournament Central

    LAST WEEK
    USC shut out visiting No. 17 Cal Baptist in the fourth period of the Trojans' home opener last week, successfully defending McDonald's Swim Stadium with a 13-4 victory over the Lancers. A stifling USC defense anchored by goalie Ely Bonilla backed up the Trojan cause, which overcame a tight start before going on to score five straight goals to end the game. The USC offense misfired on several occasions in the early goings of the game, but behind the veteran scoring talents of Matt Burton and Nikola Vavic, the Trojans would power on. Vavic finished with four goals on the day, with Burton adding a hat trick to charge up the Trojans. The win was USC's 17th consecutive victory at McDonald's Swim Stadium.

    SPREAD OFFENSE
    Just four games deep into 2012, 19 different Trojans have already scored goals -- just two away from last year's grand total of 21 scorers. Led by 14 from Nikola Vavic to date, USC has already flexed some serious scoring muscle in averaging 19.5 goals per game out of the gates. On opening weekend for the Trojans, USC had four players score their first career goals: Mac Carden, Eugene Chong, Russell Renteria and Chase Watson. So far, USC is outscoring opponents 78-14, thanks to a Trojan defense averaging just 3.5 goals-against per game.

    STRIVE FOR FIVE
    Already in the history books as members of the first program to win four straight national championships, USC still boasts a group of Trojans who are looking for their fifth NCAA championship rings. Redshirt seniors Matt Burton, Michael Rosenthal and Andrew Reego have been at USC for the past four championship runs. And although their fellow four-peater Brian Boswell has been sidelined by medical issues for 2012, the Trojan veterans are aiming to once again roll to victory and grab an unprecedented fifth championship ring. Reego and Rosenthal were redshirts in 2008, when Burton competed as a true freshman. Burton was injured early in 2011, sidelined for the rest of the year but returning now as a captain again for the 2012 Trojans. Those three fifth-year players are part of a talented senior class that is rounded out by Tobias Preuss, who joined the Trojan roster as a sophomore in 2010.

    100 AND COUNTING...
    USC junior Nikola Vavic hit the 100-goal mark in the first weekend of action, putting him on pace to blaze a trail toward the top of the USC career scoring list. Now with 104 goals to date in the early goings of his junior season, Vavic is already halfway to making a strong challenge for all-time leader Juraj Zatovic's top spot. Zatovic tallied 220 in his four seasons at Troy, which included two national championships (2003 & 2005). Vavic already has two NCAA titles in the books as he aims to lead the charge for the Trojans for 2012 and beyond.

    AUSTRALIAN TAKEOVER
    The Trojan roster again boast three standout players from Down Under. With the graduation of USC's all-time career saves leader Joel Dennerley, the Trojans have another Aussie goalie in newcomer James Clark-- also a 2012 Olympian alongside Dennerley. Returning Australian All-Americans Jeremy Davie and Mace Rapsey are also back in the water with plenty of championship experience for the Trojans, having been key members of the last two runs to NCAA glory.

    HOME WATERS
    The Trojans have the chance to put on a true championship show for its USC fan base this year, as both the 2012 MPSF Tournament and the 2012 NCAA Championships will be held on the USC campus. McDonald's Swim Stadium -- which is due to begin transformation into the Uytengsu Aquatics Center as soon as the national championship trophy is hoisted in the air -- will be the site of both postseason tournaments in 2012.

    2011 RECAP
    The 2011 Trojans never slipped farther than the No. 2 spot in the national rankings and wrapped up the year on top once again as USC made history as the first-ever men's water polo team to win four consecutive national championships. Behind a set of eight All-Americans, including National Player of the Year and Cutino Award winner Joel Dennerley, the Trojans finished 2011 with a 24-3 overall record after an 8-0 run through the MPSF regular season. In addition to Dennerley, senior Peter Kurzeka also finished up his Trojan career as a four-time NCAA champ and also with another set of All-American honors. Head coach Jovan Vavic was named National Coach of the Year, with six more Trojans on the All-America list: Jeremy Davie, Nikola Vavic, Kostas Genidounias, Tobias Preuss, Mace Rapsey and Michael Rosenthal. USC saw a 13-game win streak snapped in the MPSF Tournament final by UCLA, but the Trojans would exact revenge with a dominating 7-4 win over the Bruins in the national championship game. Kurzeka was USC's top scorer with 42 goals on the year, followed by Nikola Vavic with 41. In all, the Trojan offense -- charged by 21 different scorers -- averaged 11.6 goals per game, while the defense again led the nation with just 5.4 goals against per game. USC outscored opponents 314-146 in 2011. •