For the USC men's water polo team, Saturday's clash with crosstown rival UCLA is about more than bragging rights. More is at stake, even, than keeping the Trojans' undefeated 2012 record intact. No, Saturday's prize is the top seed in the coming MPSF Tournament. A win would secure it for the top-ranked Trojans, and a win here could well be the key to securing a spot at the NCAA Championships, where USC aims to pursue a fifth straight national championship. Now, USC (23-0, 7-0 MPSF) plays host to rival No. 2 UCLA (24-2, 6-0) at 4:30 p.m. on Saturday (Nov. 17) at McDonald's Swim Stadium for the Trojans' regular-season finale. The match will be televised by Pac-12 Networks with Chris Dorst and Jim Watson on the call.
THE LAST MEETING
September 16, 2012
Palo Alto, Calif.
Champs Again: USC Beats UCLA For Third Straight NorCal Tournament Title
The top-ranked USC men's water polo team had an all-SoCal matchup once again to decide the NorCal Tournament championship, and for the third straight year the Trojans reigned supreme at the competitive early-season tourney. USC was in control throughout in today's title match against No. 2 UCLA as the Trojans pinned up a 7-6 win over the Bruins to stay undefeated on the 2012 season and bring home another NorCal crown in improving to 8-0 overall on the year.
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 12th week of 2012 competition. UCLA is ranked No. 2 this week.
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. Tickets are on sale for both events now. CLICK HERE FOR TICKETS to join the fun to come!
The Bruins are 24-2 overall and 6-0 in MPSF play with two games left in their regular season -- USC on Saturday and UC Irvine on Sunday. Aside from a 7-6 loss to USC on Sept. 16, UCLA's only other loss to date was an 11-10 upset by UC Santa Barbara. Josh Samuels is UCLA's top scorer with 2.4 goals per game. Goalie Matt Rapacz is averaging 9.2 saves and 6.1 goals-against per game. USC is 61-45-1 all-time against UCLA with wins in the past two meetings. The Trojans beat the Bruins 7-6 earlier this year in the NorCal Tournament championship game. Before that, USC had beaten UCLA 7-4 in the 2011 NCAA Championship match. The Bruins' last win was a 10-9 sudden-victory win over the Trojans in the 2011 MPSF Tournament title match at UCLA.
USC stretched its undefeated 2012 record out to 23-0 with one nonconference and one MPSF win last week. In a 19-4 win over Concordia, junior Nikola Vavic scored nine goals -- the most by a Trojan in a single game on record. Ely Bonilla manned the cage for that victory and made eight saves to back up the stingy USC defense. The next day, the Trojans took a trip to Malibu to face No. 4 Pepperdine. USC shut out the Waves in the first half of play while building up a 10-0 halftime lead on the way to a final victory of 16-5. James Clark was the man capped up in goal for that one, also hauling in eight saves. After hig big day against Concordia, Vavic kept clicking and slipped in a hat trick against Pepperdine, matched by three apiece from teammates Kostas Genidounias and Michael Rosenthal. With the 12-goal weekend, Vavic leaped up the USC all-time ladders. He's now at No. 5 all-time in career scoring with 162 goals, thanks to this season's 72 goals and counting, good for the No. 4 slot all-time in single-season scoring.
KINGS OF SOCAL
USC was wholly dominant at the 2012 SoCal Tournament, while the nation's other top-ranked teams faltered. The top seed in the tourney, Trojans opened with a 15-4 win over St. Francis before posting a 9-4 win over Pacific during group play. That put USC in the semifinals, where the Trojans faced No. 5 UC Irvine after the Anteaters had upset No. 4 California in their group match. The Trojans dispatched UC Irvine with a 10-5 win to take a spot in the title match. That's where USC squared off against tournament host UC Santa Barbara, which had dealt out back-to-back upsets in beating No. 3 Stanford in group play and then topping No. 2 UCLA in the semifinals. The Trojans refused to be a third upset for the Gauchos, as Nikola Vavic plugged in the first three goals of the game for USC on his way to a career-high six as USC pounded UCSB 14-5 to with the championship. It was USC's ninth SoCal Tournament title in the past decade. Vavic was USC's top scorer in the tournament with 14 goals, followed closely by Kostas Genidounias with 11. Goalies James Clark and Ely Bonilla shared time in the cage. Clark accumulated 15 saves with eight goals against in seven periods of work, and Bonilla gathered 29 saves and allowed 10 goals in nine periods between the pipes.
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 semifinal 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.
NIKOLA NETS A PAIR OF PLAYER OF THE WEEK PICKS
After impressive efforts at the two biggest regular-season tournaments of the year, junior Nikola Vavic has hauled in two MPSF Player of the Week honors. With 12 goals at the NorCal Tournament, including four in the championship match against UCLA, Vavic picked up his first weekly honor of his career. Two weeks later, Vavic knocked in 14 goals at the SoCal Tournament, going big in the title game once again as he set a new career high with six goals in the win over host UC Santa Barbara. His big day made him just the third Trojan since 2001 to score six goals in a single game.
KOSTAS JOINS MPSF HONOR ROLL 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 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 takeaway against a late Cal 6-on-5 chance in the fourth period. Genidounias currently is second on the team with 54 goals on the year after tallying 31 in his freshman campaign.
The stingy USC defense has posted at least one shutout period in all but five games this season. Only Pepperdine, Stanford, UC Irvine and Pacific have managed to score in all four quarters of regulation, although the Cardinal were successfully silenced during overtime in USC's NorCal Tournament semifinal win earlier this season. In seven of USC's 23 games to date, the Trojans have held opponents scoreless in the third period of play. In all games, USC boasts 25 shutout periods during regulation play.
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 405-64 (.864) thanks to USC's 14-0 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 the Sept. 23 clash with Cal improved his personal record against the Bears to 36-12.
As USC works into the home stretch of the 2012 season, 19 different Trojans have scored goals -- just two away from last year's grand total of 21 scorers. Led by 72 from Nikola Vavic and 54 from Kostas Genidounias to date, USC is flexing some serious scoring muscle in averaging and MPSF-best 14.8 goals per game. 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 340-120, thanks to a Trojan defense averaging just 5.2 goals-against per game. USC leads the MPSF in both defense and offense to date. USC has now scored at least 300 goals for five straight seasons.
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...
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 162 goals to date with six games likely still to go in his junior season, Vavic is 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. With 72 goals to date, he's well overtaken his previous season best of 49 scored as a freshman. Vavic has scored in every game for USC this year and has taken over at No. 5 all-time with 162 career goals thus far through his junior season. Vavic's 72 goals so far also ranks him at No. 4 all-time in single-season scoring.
The Trojan roster again boasts 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. Davie and Rapsey have combined for 42 goals so far this season, and Clark has capped up for 13 games as he now averages 10.3 saves and 5.2 goals-against per game.
USC has arguably the most dominant goalkeeping tandem in the nation. With tag-team efforts at the NorCal and SoCal Tournaments, redshirt sophomore Ely Bonilla and newcomer James Clark are each averaging around 10 saves per game to help the Trojan defense allow just 5.2 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 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.