Men's Water Polo
    No. 4 USC Opens MPSF Play In Malibu, Facing Pepperdine Saturday

    Lachy Edwards and the Trojans continue their road work with a trip to Malibu.
    Sept. 24, 2014

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    THIS WEEK
    The No. 4 USC men's water polo team aims to get back on a winning track this weekend after a couple losses interrupted an undefeated start to 2014 for the Trojans. Now toting a 10-2 overall record, USC dives into MPSF play this week with a journey to Malibu. After three consecutive weeks of four-game weekends, the Trojans now devote all their attention to a single opponent. On Saturday (Sept. 27), USC will pay a visit to No. 11 Pepperdine (4-4) for a 1 p.m. match that marks the first conference competition of the year for the six-time defending NCAA champs.

    THE LAST MEETING
    Pepperdine3
    USC13
    November 10, 2013
    Uytengsu Aquatics Center
    No. 2 Trojans Crash No. 7 Waves, 13-3
    Behind a four-goal performance from redshirt junior driver Rex Butler, the No. 2-ranked USC men's water polo team took down No. 7 Pepperdine 13-3 at the Uytengsu Aquatics Center on Sunday afternoon.

    WATCH USC-PEPPERDINE LIVE STREAM

    RANKINGS
    The six-time defending NCAA champion Trojans entered 2014 ranked No. 2 in the nation in the preseason poll. USC moved to No. 3 for the next two weeks, and this week stands at No. 4 in the latest national poll. USC also found itself ranked No. 4 in the nation for a couple weeks last season.

    SCOUTING PEPPERDINE
    The No. 11 Waves are 4-4 overall after taking 11th place at last week's KAP7 NorCal Classic. Pepperdine lost to Long Beach State 11-4 and beat Santa Clara 12-10 on day one, falling to UC Irvine 12-11 in overtime and beating Air Force 15-7 the next day. Luke Hewko is the MPSF second leading scorer and Pepperdine's top provider with 3.38 goals per game. Goalie Zack Rhodes is averaging 7.1 saves and 10.3 goals-against per game. USC is 60-19-2 all-time against Pepperdine, holding a 14-game win streak against the Waves dating back to a 5-4 loss back in 2005 in Malibu.

    LAST WEEK
    USC kept its hot streak rolling through the first day of action at the 2014 NorCal Tournament -- this year dubbed the KAP7 NorCal Classic -- in Stockton. The Trojans whipped up a 20-7 win over No. 19 Air Force on the hands of 10 different scorers before taking out No. 7 UC Santa Barbara 12-7 to wrap the day. Day two, however, was a different story. In the semifinals, USC went up against rival UCLA to fight for the right to a spot in the title match. In a tug-of-war with the Bruins, UCLA heated up late and made the push to a 9-7 victory. That sent USC to the third-place game against No. 4 Cal, which was ready and waiting for the Trojans. Cal made a third-quarter surge to a five-goal lead, and although USC gathered itself for a fourth-frame comeback attempt, the Trojans fell short in their bid and took an 11-10 loss. Kostas Genidounias put the team on his back in an attempt to power the Trojans out of the hole, scoring four goals in the fourth quarter in finishing up with a career-high seven, but Cal managed to hang on for the win to relegate USC to fourth place in the tourney. Genidounias was named the Tournament MVP after his 14-goal effort at the tournament.

    IT'S HAPPENED BEFORE...
    Before anyone gets too anxious about the back-to-back losses sustained by the Trojans last weekend, rest assured that USC has fought back from similar stumbles in recent seasons, all the while continuing to build on its historic NCAA championship win streak. Back in 2011, USC lost two in a row as it stumbled to a fourth-place finish at the SoCal Tournament. The Trojans would regroup, however, avenging both those losses and powering on to win a fourth consecutive national championship. Last week's loss to Cal snapped a six-game win streak against the Golden Bears, who last beat the Trojans in 2010 during MPSF play -- a 12-9 decision in Cal's favor. That same season, though, saw USC avenge that loss in the finest of forms. The Trojans would beat the Bears in overtime at Cal's own pool to claim the 2010 NCAA Championship -- USC's third straight title.

    BY THE NUMBERS
    Now 12 games into 2014, the Trojans have been putting up some big numbers. Led by Kostas Genidounias with 39 goals and freshmen Matteo Morelli and Grant Stein with 25 each, there are a grand total of 11 Trojans already with at least 10 goals apiece. Six of them are freshmen and four are seniors, exhibiting some dangerous balance for USC. To date, USC has outscored opponents 219-71 -- more than triple its foes' scoring count to date. Defensively, USC is allowing just 5.9 goals per game, having held opponents scoreless in the third quarter in five games.

    KOSTAS ON THE CLIMB
    Three-time All-American senior Kostas Genidounias has been on the rise in the USC scoring ranks throughout his time at Troy. He's the Trojans' top scorer this season with 39 goals to date, giving him 218 in his career to sit just two goals away from No. 2 all-time in career scoring. The No. 2 mark is held by Juraj Zatovic at 220, while Nikola Vavic stands at No. 1 with 254 career goals. That puts Genidounias 36 goals from taking over the top spot. Stay tuned!

    CULTURE CLUB
    USC's NCAA championship streak began while this incoming freshman class was still in middle school. So although the 2014 Trojan newcomers haven't experienced winning a national championship firsthand -- yet -- they certainly are familiar with the culture of winning that has been built at Troy. Every other member of the USC roster has at least one national championship ring in his trophy case. The senior class of four Trojans, meanwhile, have played in a combined eight NCAA Tournaments in the past three seasons. Three of those seniors -- Rex Butler, Kostas Genidounias and Marc Vonderweidt -- have experience from USC's 2012 and 2013 title matches. That trio, along with Nick Bell, Mac Carden and Max Hurst-Mendoza all combined forces for USC in last season's championship victory. To be sure, USC's championship savvy is still very much in effect.

    BUILT TO LAST
    Everybody is calling it a "rebuilding year." Everybody, that is, except USC head coach Jovan Vavic. His group of 22 newcomers for 2014 already looks to be built to last. Vavic already has tabbed eight or nine of those freshmen for immediate action. Team USA goalie McQuin Baron has the starting nod in the cage, but he's not the only newcomer with experience in international waters. Four players from four different countries have arrived from overseas to join the Trojans this year. Australian National Teamer Lachlan Edwards is poised to post up for the Trojans, following in the footsteps of another Aussie two-meter man -- All-American Jeremy Davie, who played four years and won four titles as a Trojan. Mihajlo Milicevic comes to Troy from Serbia; Lazar Pasuljevic hails from Montenegro; and Matteo Morelli joins the Trojans from Italy. Vavic is eager to involve each of them in his 2014 game plan. Adding to the depth charge in the new class are a set of solid stars from more local waters. In addition to goalies Baron and Ben Goncharenko, California has produced some mighty field players to bolster the Trojan cause. Bryce Hoerman, Grant Stein and James Walters headline that crew, which offers up some impressive flexibility and skill in which Vavic already has early confidence.

    LUCKY NUMBER SEVEN?
    USC has played in the NCAA championship game 10 times in the past 11 years. Eight national titles have come during that span. But it isn't just a place in another final that USC is aiming for. No, for 2014 the Trojans once again have just one mission. USC has won six consecutive titles, and making it seven in a row would also bring the men's program its 10th national championship.

    TOP GUNS
    Seniors Kostas Genidounias and Rex Butler represent a potent one-two punch for the Trojans. The righty-lefty duo give USC dangerous scoring options from both sides of the pool, and they've been effective in their Trojan careers to date. Genidounias whipped in 80 goals (third most in program history) for USC last season as a junior, giving him a career count of 179 to rank him No. 4 all-time entering 2014. Butler scored 40 goals last year, giving him 69 overall as he pursues a spot in the 100-goal club by the close of his Trojan career. That pair stands out as USC's top returning scorers, but Nick Bell, Mac Carden and Marc Vonderweidt have also proven to pack some scoring punch of their own. All three scored 18 goals apiece last season.

    CAGE FIGHTERS
    The only position dominated wholly by freshmen is in the cage-- previously occupied by Olympians Joel Dennerley and James Clark for the past six seasons. And yet Vavic is as confident in his goalies as anywhere else. McQuin Baron looms large as the starter, bringing in his 6-foot-9-inch frame fresh from a summer of experience with the U.S National Team. The Trojans could well tag-team the cage, too, as the goalie corps is solid down the line. Ben Goncharenko and Steven Michaud are both standout goalies in their own right and stand to see time in the cage as well.

    FIGHTING ON FOR JON
    On Jan. 8, 2014, the Trojan Family lost a special member in the passing of USC freshman Jon Walters. At 19 years old, Walters was an NCAA Champion, beloved teammate and a Trojan warrior for the USC men's water polo team. His loss has touched the Trojan Family and the water polo world deeply, and the USC water polo program will be playing with Jon in their hearts this season and beyond. As a first-year freshman 2-meter man, Jon Walters was a key contributor on USC's 2013 NCAA championship men's water polo team that won a sixth consecutive NCAA title in December. He scored 17 goals on the year, including two in the NCAA semifinal game and another two in the MPSF championship game, despite missing the middle part of the season with an elbow injury. A native of Newport Beach, he attended Mater Dei High School, where he was an All-American and the 2012 CIF Player of the Year. Jon's younger brother James is a freshman on this 2014 USC team.

    2013 RECAP
    USC became the first collegiate water polo team ever to win six consecutive national championships when the Trojans finished off their 2013 campaign with five straight wins, claiming the MPSF Championship before making a victorious run to win the 2013 NCAA Championship. An overtime win over Pacific in the title match notched a 28-4 overall record for the Trojans while grabbing the program's ninth national crown. Senior Nikola Vavic finished his career as USC's all-time leading scorer, was named National Player of the Year and was again a finalist for the Cutino Award. Kostas Genidounias, too, was named a Cutino Award finalist, and was one of six All-Americans from the 2013 season along with Vavic, James Clark, Jeremy Davie, Mace Rapsey and Connor Virjee. In all, the Trojan offense -- charged by 21 different scorers -- averaged 15.3 goals per game, while the defense allowed 6.7 goals against per game. USC outscored opponents 490-213 in 2013, marking the most goals scored in a year by the Trojans since at least 1983. •