Men's Water Polo
    No. 1 USC Hosts Princeton, Hits Road For SoCal Tourney

    The Trojans are gunning for a SoCal title to go along with their NorCal Tournament crown from earlier this month.

    Sept. 26, 2012

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    The No. 1 USC men's water polo team has a busy week ahead with five games to play in a three-day span. First, the undefeated Trojans (9-0) play host to a nonconference clash with No. 16 Princeton (7-4) at 12 p.m. on Friday (Sept. 28) at McDonald's Swim Stadium. USC will then head to Santa Barbara, Calif., for action at the SoCal Tournament, which runs Sept. 29-30. USC is looking to claim its ninth SoCal Tournament title in the past 10 years after having an eight-year run snapped with a fourth-place finish last year at the 2011 tourney. The Trojans would regroup, of course, and roll to an unprecedented fourth straight national championship, but pride is still on the line at the SoCal Tournament, and USC is looking to contend for the 2012 crown. The Trojans are bracketed with No. 8 Pacific, No. 9 Long Beach State and No. 19 St. Francis, opening up with an 8 a.m. matchup against St. Francis on Saturday (Sept. 29). A win there would put USC against the Tiger-49er winner at 2:40 p.m. The following day (Sept. 30), USC is looking to play in the 10:40 a.m. semifinal for the right to move into a 5:20 p.m. championship game. The third-place game is set for 4 p.m. All of USC's games are scheduled to be played at Dos Pueblos High School.

    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 fifth week of 2012 competition. The Trojans are bracketed with No. 8 Pacific, No. 9 Long Beach State, and No. 19 St. Francis. The rest of the SoCal Tournament field includes all ranked teams: No. 2 UCLA, No. 3 Stanford, No. 4 Cal, No. 5 UC Irvine, No. 6 UC Santa Barbara, No. 7 Pepperdine, No. 10 LMU, No. 11 UC San Diego, No. 12 UC Davis, No. 14 Air Force, No. 16 Princeton, and No. 17 Santa Clara.

    The No. 16 Tigers are 7-4 overall after beating George Washington 7-5 and Johns Hopkins 9-6 and falling to Navy 13-10 last week. Drew Hoffenberg is Princeton's top scorer with 25 goals, and goalie Ben Dearborn has made 71 saves with 59 goals allowed in eight starts and nine appearances to date. USC is 5-0 all-time against the Tigers, including two wins last season. The Trojans beat Princeton 13-4 during the 2011 regular season and then 17-4 in the NCAA Semifinals last year.

    This year's edition of the competitive SoCal Tournament takes place in Santa Barbara, Calif., where 16 of the nation's top teams will do battle and the Trojans take aim at their ninth SoCal crown in the past 10 years. Including tournament host UC Santa Barbara, all nine Mountain Pacific Sports Federation teams will be included, along with competitive teams from around the country. Coming in from out of state are St. Francis, Princeton and Air Force, joining non-MPSF California squads LMU, Santa Clara, UC San Diego and UC Davis to round out the 16-team field. All told, the top 12 ranked teams in the nation will be in the mix, with all 16 teams ranked in the top-20. Last year, USC started strong in beating Pomona-Pitzer 21-1 and UC Irvine 11-5 before stumbling in the semifinals with a 6-4 loss to Stanford. That left USC out of reach of its ninth consecutive SoCal Tournament title, and the Trojans would finish the 2011 tourney in fourth after a 7-6 loss to UCLA in the third-place game.


    USC made a second-half stand against visiting No. 4 California last week, pairing stingy defense with three stinging scores to surge to a 7-6 comeback win in the MPSF opener. In a rare nationally televised game on ESPNU, the Trojans kept their 2012 slate clean with the win over the Bears. The game-winner came from a patient Nikola Vavic, who served up his first goal of the game with 1:38 left to play in the fourth frame, leaving the Trojan defense to clamp down on Cal the rest of the way for the victory. After trailing by two goals on two occasions in the second period, the Trojans regrouped and battled back to tie on back-to-back goals from Kostas Genidounias. After cutting a 5-3 Cal lead to 5-4 with an even slider a minute away from halftime, Genidounias would strike again late in the third period. The sophomore's spin and finish evened the count at 5-5 with 1:41 to go in the third, as the Trojan defense took care of the rest with a shutout of the Bears in that frame. A pesky Trojan defense would interrupt numerous Cal offensive series, as USC took the ball away from the Bears seven times in the third period of play. Cal returned the favor with a steal on USC's opening possession of the fourth, taking it the other way for a counterattack strike and a 6-5 Cal lead, but USC was up to the challenge. Two minutes later, Genidounias served up the ball for Mace Rapsey, who ripped in the equalizer for the Trojans with 5:25 on the clock. USC goalie James Clark knocked down a dangerous close-range Cal shot soon after, and after a missed USC 6-on-5 opportunity the Trojans put a stop to a Cal power play on the other end with a takeaway from Genidounias. After a string of misses on 6-on-5 chances, the Trojans made good on a big one when Vavic slotted his first of the day with a low shot to the right post for USC's first lead since the first quarter of play. USC's defense remained in control, crashing Cal to force two key turnovers down the stretch, including a final stab from Jack Plaga whose pressure put the ball back in Trojan hands with 35 seconds left. Clark would haul in Cal's last-gasp shot -- his ninth of the day -- and the Trojans had a big MPSF win in the books in front of a national audience.

    In the Trojans' fifth major tournament appearance in Northern California, USC brought home yet another title in rolling up its third straight NorCal Tournament championship at Stanford. The three NorCal crowns go along with the Trojans' two latest NCAA Championships also won up north in the past two years. For this 2012 edition of the NorCal Tournament, USC opened with a near-shutout of Pomona-Pitzer as Trojan newcomer James Clark capped up in goal for the first time and hauled in 10 saves in his debut. He would help anchor a 22-1 win for USC while 13 different Trojans scored goals at the other end, led by hat tricks from Kostas Genidounias and Nikola Vavic. The next bracket game of the day put USC up against No. 8 Pepperdine. Ely Bonilla manned the cage in that one, setting his career high with 12 saves as the Trojans topped the Waves 9-4 thanks in part to four goals from Vavic. Solidly set up for a semifnal spot against host Stanford, the Trojans emerged victorious in overtime against the Cardinal, getting an OT goal from Jeremy Davie while the Trojan defense -- again with Bonilla in the cage for 12 more saves -- shut down Stanford in overtime for a 10-9 win. That put the Trojans up against UCLA in the title match for the third straight year. Clark was the goalie for USC in this one, and the Trojans built up a 5-0 lead on the Bruins to cruise through the title match for a 7-6 win that wrapped up a third consecutive NorCal Tournament crown for the Trojans. Vavic was the top gun in the title match with four goals, and Clark finished with 11 saves against the Bruins.

    Junior Nikola Vavic served up four goals for the Trojans in the championship match of the NorCal Tournament, helping secure USC's third straight title at the tourney and working himself onto the honor roll for MPSF Player of the Week -- the first such honor for the two-time All-American. Vavic finished the tournament with 12 goals overall, including four in the 7-6 win over UCLA in the championship. Vavic scored seven on day one - three vs. Pomona-Pitzer and four vs. Pepperdine. In the semifinal vs. host Stanford, Vavic scored early in the fourth period to give USC a 7-6 lead in an eventual 10-9 overtime win. With his weekend performance, Vavic leads USC with 26 goals this season and climbs to No. 21 all-time on USC's career scoring list with 116 goals.

    Kostas Genidounias scored two big goals to pull USC even and set up a heroic finish for the Trojans in a 7-6 win over No. 4 Cal in their MPSF opener. For his efforts, the Trojan sophomore picked up his first career honor as MPSF Player of the Week, making it back-to-back weeks with a Trojan on the honor roll for the conference award. Genidounias scored back-to-back goals in the key win over Cal, including an equalizer that made it 5-5 in the third period of play. Genidounias also assisted on two Trojan goals, and had four steals including a takeway against a late Cal 6-on-5 chance in the fourth period. With the two-goal game, Genidounias now has 14 goals on the year. USC improved to 9-0 overall with the win, and takes a 1-0 MPSF start. The victory also marked USC head coach Jovan Vavic's 400th career win on the men's side at USC.

    THE 400 CLUB
    USC's 7-6 win over California on Sept. 23 was big, to be certain, but the biggest number that came out of the victory didn't show up anywhere on the scoresheet. The Trojans' nationally televised takedown of the Bears at McDonald's Swim Stadium was USC head coach Jovan Vavic's 400th career win with the Trojan men's program. His career mark on the men's side now stands at a daunting 400-64 (.826) thanks to USC's 9-0 start to 2012 following its string of unprecedented four straight national championships. The 400th victory was secured by none other than Vavic's own son, Nikola Vavic, whose goal with 1:38 remaining locked the Trojans in on the 7-6 comeback win over the Bears. Jovan Vavic is in his 18th season at the helm of the Trojan men, with whom he has won seven national championships to go along with three won in 18 seasons as the USC women's head coach, where he is 413-131 overall. A 10-time National Coach of the Year, Vavic has seen his Trojans and Women of Troy win 10 Peter J. Cutino Awards to go along with the 10 national championship trophies that adorn his office. In the 2012 London Olympic Games, Vavic had a total of 10 USC athletes competing for their countries. In his tenure at Troy, Vavic has a winning record against all opponents on the men's side, and the win in today's clash with Cal improved his personal record against the Bears to 36-12.

    Eight games deep into 2012, 19 different Trojans have scored goals -- just two away from last year's grand total of 21 scorers. Led by 27 from Nikola Vavic and 14 from Kostas Genidounias to date, USC is flexing some serious scoring muscle in averaging 14.8 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 133-40, thanks to a Trojan defense averaging just 4.4 goals-against per game. USC leads the MPSF in both offense and defense to date.

    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...
    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 117 goals to date in the early goings of his junior season, Vavic is over 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.

    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.

    USC has what is becoming the most dominant goalkeeping tandem in the nation. In a tag-team effort at the recent NorCal Tournament, redshirt sophomore Ely Bonilla and newcomer James Clark averaged 11.25 saves per game while allowing an average of 5.0 goals per game. Although teammates for the first time this year, both goalies have had the distinction of playing behind four-time All-American, Cutino Award winner and Olympian Joel Dennerley. After redshirting the 2010 season, Bonilla was a backup to Dennerley in USC's run to the 2011 NCAA Championship, and Clark was Dennerley's capable understudy for Australia at the 2012 Olympic Games in London.

    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. •