No. 4 USC Winds Up For SoCal Tournament Action In Westwood

    The Trojans take their shot at a third straight SoCal Tournament title this weekend!
    Oct. 8, 2014

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    The No. 4 USC men's water polo team digs into another competitive tournament scene this week as it sets up to defend its SoCal Tournament crown. This year's host of the tourney is crosstown rival UCLA, which the Trojans beat in overtime to win last year's title. USC takes a 12-2 overall record into this year's action, opening up against No. 15 Air Force in a 10:50 a.m. matchup on Saturday (Oct. 11). A win there puts USC up against either No. 6 UC Santa Barbara or No. 12 Pepperdine at 5:55 p.m. If the Trojans get through day one victorious, they'll step into Sunday (Oct. 12) with a 10:50 a.m. semifinal on the docket. The SoCal Tournament championship game is slated for 5:55 p.m. that afternoon, preceded by the 4:30 p.m. third-place game.

    Air Force7
    September 20, 2014
    Stockton, Calif.
    Long Beach City College6
    September 26, 2009
    McDonald's Swim Stadium

    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 has since been at No. 4 in the past three national polls. USC also found itself ranked No. 4 in the nation for a couple weeks last season.

    This year's edition of the competitive SoCal Tournament takes place in Westwood, Calif., where 16 of the nation's top teams will do battle with the defending champion Trojans taking aim at their 11th SoCal crown in the past 12 years. Including tournament host UCLA, 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 Air Force, Princeton and St. Francis Brooklyn, which join an otherwise California-heavy field, including non-MPSF squads LMU, UC Davis, UC San Diego and Whittier to round out the 16-team field. All told, all teams are ranked in the nation's top-20, including the entire top-12. Last year, USC started strong in beating St. Francis Brooklyn 13-4 and Long Beach State 14-7 to reach the semis. There, USC plowed through Pacific 10-6 to advance to the title match against UCLA. The Trojans never led in the game but fought back to tie it up and force overtime, where USC's defense won out and Kostas Genidounias served up the game-winner for a 12-11 victory over the Bruins. That captured USC's second straight SoCal Tournament title and 10th in an 11-year span.

    USC whipped up a big win in its first official game at the Trojans' revamped venue, the Uytengsu Aquatics Center, last week. No. 5 UC Santa Barbara managed the first goal of the match, but the Trojans promptly swarmed the Gauchos with a seven-goal scoring surge to take control. USC would get 11 different players in on the scoring frenzy, which wrapped as a 14-5 Trojan victory. USC's first nine goals of the game each came from a different Trojan as USC built up a 9-2 halftime lead. Grant Stein broke the trend when he hit his second goal of the day to open the scoring on the second half, and Kostas Genidounias followed suit with a strike to follow. The senior would finish up with a hat trick on the day, taking firm hold of sole possession of USC's No. 2 all-time scoring mark. He worked his way past Juraj Zatovic with his first goal of the day, and now boasts 223 career goals at the No. 2 spot. Things really broke open for the Trojans in the second frame, where goalie McQuin Baron racked up seven of his eventual 12 saves and the USC offense hit high gear. Six more scorers got in on the action before halftime, with freshmen Bryce Hoerman, James Walters, Matteo Morelli and Lazar Pasuljevic joining forces with seniors Genidounias and Rex Butler to balloon the USC advantage to 9-2 by halftime. The third period would see a stalemate between the Trojans and the Gauchos, who matched USC's first two goals with two of their own to bring the score to 11-4 entering the final period of play.

    Before anyone gets too anxious about the back-to-back losses sustained by the Trojans at the NorCal Tournament, 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.

    Now 14 games into 2014, the Trojans have been putting up some big numbers. Led by Kostas Genidounias with 44 goals, Matteo Morelli with 29 and Grant Stein with 28, 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 254-81 -- more than triple its foes' scoring count to date. Defensively, USC is allowing just 5.79 goals per game, having held opponents scoreless in the third quarter in five games.

    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 44 goals to date, giving him 223 in his career to take sole possession of No. 2 all-time in career scoring. Nikola Vavic stands at No. 1 with 254 career goals. That puts Genidounias 31 goals from taking over the top spot. Stay tuned!

    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.

    Everybody was 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. Nine of those freshmen have already logged some serious minutes in the early goings of the 2014 season. 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 posting 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. 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. In all, seven USC freshmen have combined for 129 total goals to date, while the entirety of the goalkeeping duties has been handled by freshmen Baron and Goncharenko.

    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.

    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. This year, Bell was sidelined for the first 11 games but has jumped right back in full force. Bell, Carden and USC's senior crew of Butler, Genidounias, Max Hurst-Mendoza and Vonderweidt have combined for 102 goals to date.

    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 coach 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. Fellow freshman Ben Goncharenko also has proven his worth handily. USC has been in capable hands with Goncharenko as a backup and as a starter. He boasts a complete shutout of Occidental, and averages 5.7 saves and 5.2 goals-against per game in his seven appearances. Baron, meanwhile, has capped up in 11 games, hauling in 10.5 saves per game and allowing 6.1 goals-against per game.

    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. •