No. 1 USC visits No. 1 UCLA in a bigtime MPSF battle Friday in Westwood.
Nov. 16, 2011
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The battle for the top of the MPSF standings comes to a head this week with the nation's two No. 1 teams tangling in Westwood. USC and UCLA share the top spot in the national rankings as the Trojans put their undefeated MPSF record on the line against the Bruins at 7 p.m. on Friday (Nov. 18) at Spieker Aquatics Center. No. 1 USC (19-2, 7-0 MPSF) carries a 10-game win streak into its crosstown showdown with No. 1 UCLA (19-3, 5-1), which has won nine in a row. Someone's hopes for the top seed in the coming MPSF Tournament will be dashed on Friday, when the Trojans aim to finish undefeated in the MPSF regular season for the third time in the past four years.
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USC opened 2011 as the No. 1 team in the land -- deference to the Trojans' three straight NCAA titles and status as reigning MPSF Tournament champs -- and remained there for four weeks until taking their first losses on Oct. 2 and moving to No. 4. On Oct. 19, however, USC moved up to rank No. 2, and would jump up into a tie at the top with UCLA on Nov. 9. USC and UCLA remain even at No. 1 again this week.
The No. 1 Bruins are 19-3 overall and 5-1 in MPSF play after beating Long Beach State 13-10 and Pepperdinge 9-6 last week to make it a nine-game win streak. UCLA's lone MPSF loss to date was an 8-5 loss to Cal on Oct. 7 -- a week before the Trojans beat the Bears 9-8 in sudden death. Josh Samuels and Griffin White are UCLA's top scorers with 39 and 34 goals, respectively. Goalie Matt Rapacz is averaing 8.1 saves and 7.2 goals-against per game in 15 appearances. USC is 58-44-1 all-time against UCLA with a split this season vs. the Bruins. The Trojans posted a 10-8 win in the NorCal Tournament championship game in September, and UCLA beat USC 7-6 at the SoCal Tournament last month. USC beat UCLA four times last year.
After posting a 10-5 win over Concordia in its final home game of the year, USC went to face No. 7 Pacific in Stockton, where the Trojans pulled out an overtime win against the host Tigers behind two OT goals from Tobias Preuss for an 11-10 MPSF win in Pacific's fifth one-goal game in its past six contests. Pacific took the lead with 3:42 to go in regulation, but USC earned a 5-meter penalty shot with 1:54 to go and Peter Kurzeka leveled things with this penalty blast at 9-9. That would bring up overtime, where USC's Tobias Preuss struck twice in the first OT period to take the Trojans ahead 11-9. Pacific was awarded a penalty shot with midway through the frame, but USC goalie Joel Dennerley came up with a huge save against the 5-meter shot to hold USC's lead intact before Preuss made it a two-goal advantage with 52 seconds to go. During the next three minutes, Pacific scored on a 6-on-5 to make it 11-10, but USC's defense would hold on to its advantage and lock in on the win, with Dennerley making two more stops in the last stretch to finish with nine saves on the day. Preuss and Nikola Vavic each finished with two goals in the match to lead the Trojan offense.
USC made another defensive statement in a key MPSF tangle with No. 3 Stanford on Oct. 29, pinning up an 8-4 win over the visiting Cardinal to avenge an earlier loss to Stanford during the SoCal Tournament. An early 3-0 shutout of the Cardinal provided a lift, and 14 saves from goalie Joel Dennerley locked in USC as the leaders in the conference with the win. For his dominating service in goal against Stanford, Dennerley was named the MPSF Player of the Week for the second time this season and eighth time in his career. Dennerley had also added a clutch 5-meter penalty shot save on the way to his 14-save outing against the Cardinal.
GOLDEN GOAL VS. GOLDEN BEARS
USC wrapped up another tense battle in Berkeley with a win over host Cal, this one taken down to the wire and capped off in sudden death by Jeremy Davie's winner with six seconds to go for a 9-8 MPSF win by the Trojans. Both teams held two-goal advantages during the match, but things tightened up in the fourth to push things into another overtime showdown between the Trojans and the Bears, mirroring the 2010 NCAA Championship match between the two teams in the same pool last season, though the tension would crank up even higher as the match went to sudden death. That's where Joel Dennerley's heroics in the cage helped set up a final strike from Davie, who slammed home the winner on an assist from Nikola Vavic. Davie had a hat trick in the win, helping garner the sophomore his first selection as the MPSF Player of the Week. Dennerley racked up 15 saves in the win to anchor the Trojan defense.
The streaking USC men's water polo team stumbled on the second day of action at the SoCal Tournament in early October. The Trojans' undefeated start to 2011 and hopes of claiming a ninth straight SoCal title were both dashed by two losses in which USC uncharacteristically stalled out in the second half. The Trojans first fell 6-4 to No. 4 Stanford in the semifinals, and then got edged out by No. 2 UCLA in a 7-6 loss in the third-place game to leave the eight-time defending SoCal tourney champs with a fourth-place finish at the 2011 SoCal Tournament. The loss to Stanford snapped USC's 22-game win streak that had spanned from last season's run to the MPSF and NCAA Championships. The Trojans had a strong start to the tourney on opening day, picking up their eighth and ninth straight wins of the year with a 21-1 victory over Pomona-Pitzer and an 11-5 win over UC Irvine. Kostas Genidounias topped the scoring charts on the weekend with six goals, while Mace Rapsey put in five. Joel Dennerley made 26 saves in three games, and Ely Bonilla played five periods in the first two games with eight total saves.
Now 21 games deep in 2011, 21 different Trojans have scored goals, including a set of four with at least 20 goals to date. Senior Peter Kurzeka leads the pack with 33, followed by sophomores Nikola Vavic with 28 and Jeremy Davie with 22 and freshman Kostas Genidounias with 21. USC set its highwater mark with a season-high 12 different scorers in a 21-1 win over Pomona-Pitzer on Oct. 1. So far, USC is outscoring opponents 253-109 and holds the top defensive mark in the conference with an average of just 5.19 goals-against per game.
ANOTHER NOTCH IN NORCAL
USC made an early-season statement in capturing its second straight NorCal Tournament title behind a history-making defensive stand from USC goalie Joel Dennerley and a five-goal frenzy from newcomer Kostas Genidounias in a 10-8 championship win over UCLA. The Trojans had made short work of Stanford in the semifinals, stacking up its biggest win over Stanford since 2008 with a powerful 12-5 victory. Stockton also was the site of the Trojans' last big win over Stanford, which USC beat 10-3 in the 2008 tourney semis. USC's championship run was set up by two wins on Saturday in group play. The Trojans moved past West Valley JC with a 20-3 decision that they followed with an 11-4 win over UC Irvine. Leading the scoring front in the last three games of the tourney was Genidounias with eight goals, followed by four each from Brian Boswell and Michael Rosenthal. Dennerley amassed 37 saves in those three games including a career day of 19 saves vs. the Bruins. For his historic and impressive saves tally in the winning run, Dennerley also collected his first pick of the year and seventh career selection as the MPSF Player of the Week.
Senior Joel Dennerley became USC's all-time career saves leader while also helping the Trojans claim their second straight NorCal Tournament championship. After 12 saves in a dominating 12-5 semifinal win over Stanford, Dennerley needed just three saves in the title match against UCLA in order to take over as USC's all-time career saves leader. The senior went well over that mark in collecting a career-high 19 saves for the Trojans' defensive stand against the rival Bruins, anchoring a 10-8 win to net the tournament title for USC while chiseling himself in Trojan history by eclipsing a 24-year stand by Kevin Stringer as the USC saves leader. Dennerley now holds 808 career saves. He's averaging 9.3 saves per game now, with an MPSF-best 5.1 goals against average.
IN THE BOOKS
USC seniors Joel Dennerley and Peter Kurzeka have inked their names on the USC career charts with impressive numbers as they touch in on their final seasons at Troy. Dennerley became USC's all-time career saves leader with a career-high 19-save outing vs. UCLA in the NorCal Championship game on Sept. 18. Kurzeka, meanwhile, is climbing up the career goals ladder. His 100th career goal was the winner in USC's 2010 NCAA Championship game, and he now holds 133 to stand at No. 13 all-time. If he stays on pace, Kurzeka can crack the all-time top-10, where Juan Delgadillo sits at No. 10 with 143 goals.
Trojans Jeremy Davie and Kostas Genidounias joined forces as teammates for the first time after having squared off as opponents at the FINA Men's Junior World Championships. A returning All-American for the Trojans, Davie capped up for his Australian Junior National Team, while newcomer Genidounias was a hometown hero for his Greek Junior National Team for the competition that came to a close on Sept. 4 in Volos, Greece. Both Trojans were key contributors for their respective squads overseas, as Australia and Greece wound up clashing in the third-place game. Davie struck first for Australia in the game, but it was Greece that would prevail in a 7-5 decision that secured a bronze medal for Genidounias and his Greek teammates. Both Trojans have wasted no time making an impact for USC, standing a goal apart with Davie's 22 goals and Kostas' 21 to date.
SENIOR CORE AIMS FOR FOUR
Trojan seniors Matt Burton, Joel Dennerley and Peter Kurzeka were freshmen when USC won the 2009 NCAA championship. As sophomores, they again held the trophy high at the end of that season. Last year, as juniors, they led a USC squad picked to finish fourth in the conference to the top yet again. Now, with the stiff breeze of three straight national championships pushing them into their senior season at Troy, the All-American trio aims to reach the top once again and, in doing so, become the first collegiate men's water polo team ever to win four consecutive national championships. Burton has been sidelined this season by elbow surgery, but will return next year. Dennerley and Kurzeka recently saw their career win count hit the century mark with USC's two-win Saturday on Nov. 5.
TOP GUNS RELOAD
Offensively, USC's top 10 scorers from 2010 are back in the water. That group accounted for 81 percent of USC's goal count last season. USC's top scorer as a freshman and an All-American as well, Nikola Vavic returns. More young power is generated from All-American Jeremy Davie, and fellow sophomores Mace Rapsey and Connor Virjee, who helped claim that third straight title in their first seasons of action with the Trojans, along with Tobias Preuss and Stephen Siri. More veteran talent comes in the form of Brian Boswell and Michael Rosenthal, members of USC's last two NCAA championship rosters.
The 2010 Trojans were picked fourth in both the 2010 MPSF and national preseason polls before thundering through the season with a 26-2 overall record to add the 2010 NCAA crown to its 2008 and 2009 trophies. USC took two losses during the regular season, but went on a roll to close out the year by winning the MPSF Tournament title and then finishing off a 12-10 overtime win over host Cal in the NCAA Championship game. It was USC's 25th NCAA appearance and sixth national championship, and gave the Trojans their fourth title in the past six seasons. Jovan Vavic was named the National Coach of the Year, making him the only men's water polo coach to earn three consecutive selections. Five Trojans were named All-Americans at year's end as well. MPSF Player of the Year Joel Dennerley and Peter Kurzeka earned First Team honors, with Matt Burton, Nikola Vavic and Jeremy Davie also named All-Americans. Vavic was the team's top scorer with 49 goals, leading a set of 21 scorers on the year. As a team, USC was the best in the MPSF, averaging 12.7 goals per game offensively and allowing 6.1 goals per game defensively. USC outscored its opponents 382-183 in 2010.