No. 3 USC Hones In On MPSF Road Action, Visiting 49ers & Anteaters

    Lazar Pasuljevic and the Trojans take aim at two big MPSF road wins this weekend.
    Nov. 5, 2014

    USC Water Polo ReleaseGet Acrobat Reader

    No. 3 USC (18-4, 3-2 MPSF) has all its focus trained on these last two weeks of regular-season conference competition, with two important MPSF matchups on tap this weekend. The Trojans will tangle with No. 4 Long Beach State at high noon on Saturday (Nov. 8) in Long Beach for their first crucial conference contest. The following day, USC will pay a visit to No. 12 UC Irvine in another noon tilt, held Sunday (Nov. 9) at the Anteaters' home pool.

    Long Beach State8
    November 17, 2013
    Uytengsu Aquatics Center
    No. 2 Trojans Cap Home Stand With 10-8 Win Over Long Beach State
    The No. 2 USC men's water polo team found a third-quarter surge to break out of a tight first half against visiting No. 8 Long Beach State and pull off a 10-8 win in the Trojans' final home game of the year. USC improves to 23-3 overall and 5-2 in MPSF play with the victory.

    UC Irvine7
    October 5, 2013
    Uytengsu Aquatics Center
    No. 2 Trojans Start Strong In MPSF Play, Beat UC Irvine 18-7
    The No. 2 USC men's water polo team was hot out of the gates in opening 2013 MPSF competition with a decisive win today over visiting No. 9 UC Irvine. The Trojans peeled out with seven unanswered goals against the Anteaters and put forth a strong first-half effort en route to a final 18-7 victory. That bumps USC up to 13-1 overall and a 1-0 start to MPSF play.

    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 was at No. 4 for three weeks. The Trojans worked back to the No. 1 slot for the week of Oct. 13, but have been placed at No. 3 in the past two national polls.

    The No. 4 49ers are 16-4 overall and 5-1 in MPSF play after a 14-12 loss to Stanford and a 12-10 upset win over California last weekend on the road. Zacchary Kappos leads Long Beach State in scoring with 1.96 goals per game. Goalie Pavo Ljepopio is averaging 10.6 saves and 8.1 goals against per game. USC is 62-15 all-time against Long Beach State after a 10-8 win last year in MPSF play. In all, USC has won 24 in a row against Long Beach State.

    The No. 12 Anteaters are 13-9 overall and 1-5 in MPSF play after an 11-9 loss to Pepperdine last week. Lovre Milos leads the MPSF and the Anteaters in scoring with 78 goals scored to date. Goalie Byron rivers is averaging 12.3 saves and 7.8 goals against per game. USC is 71-23 all-time against UC Irvine after an 18-7 win last year in MPSF play. In all, USC has won 24 in a row against UC Irvine.

    A packed house was on-hand for a bigtime battle between crosstown rivals last week. USC's Uytengsu Aquatics Center was filled to the brim with around 2,500 fans as the No. 3 Trojans and No. 1 Bruins locked horns in an MPSF men's water polo matchup. The back-and-forth affair eventually went the way of the Bruins, who made a second-half push to a 10-8 victory in the SoCal BMW Crosstown Cup clash. The tone of the game was set right out of the gates. UCLA struck on its first possession, and USC answered right back on a rocket from Rex Butler off the foul. The tug-of-war continued throughout the half as the rivals went goal for goal. USC's Nick Bell and Mihajlo Milicevic answered Bruin scores to keep it even at 3-3. In the second period, Butler fed James Walters for a searing 6-on-5 score that gave USC its first lead of the game, up 4-3 with 7:03 on the clock. UCLA and Milicevic traded goals again, and The rivalry madness raged on. The Bruins scored out of set less than a minute later, only to see USC's Lazar Pasuljevic blaze one through to make it 6-5. USC would flex some serious defensive muscle the rest of the frame, keyed by a huge penalty shot save from goalie McQuin Baron. Another Baron save and a clutch Kostas Genidounias field block kept the Bruins off the scoresheet for the last 4 minutes of the half, preserving a 6-5 USC lead at halftime. In the third, however, the Bruins seemed to solve some of their offensive issues. Back-to-back goals from Ryder Roberts tugged UCLA into the lead. The lead would last barely 30 seconds, though, as Marc Vonderweidt hit Butler for his second of the day and another tie score at 7-7. The Bruins fired right back to snag back the lead, and USC would pull even once more when Milicevic fed Carden for a beautiful finish out of set on a USC power play. That 8-8 lockup -- which came with 23 seconds left in the frame -- looked like it would hold through to the close of the period. Instead, UCLA was the beneficiary of an eventual penalty shot, converting it to go back on top, up 9-8 on the way to the fourth. Nothing would go for the Trojans in the fourth, while UCLA managed one early goal to pad its lead up to 10-8 in the first minute of the frame. In the remaining 7:14, USC came up empty, finishing up with the loss to the Bruins. USC goalie Baron hauled in an impressive 15 saves in the game.

    Sophomore Nick Bell had a career weekend in helping USC win the SoCal Tournament championship, totaling 10 goals over the four Trojan victories over that weekend. For his standout performance, Bell earned his first career selection as the MPSF Player of the Week on Oct. 13, becoming the first Trojan to win the award this year. In just his second game back from injury, Bell delivered his first career hat trick in USC's opening win over Air Force. He'd tally another goal in USC's next win over UC Santa Barbara. The following day, Bell went even bigger. The sophomore punched in four goals in USC's semifinal upset of host UCLA to mark a new career high for himself and set up his Trojans for the title match. There, Bell added two more goals to help USC edge out Cal 10-9 and win the Trojans' third straight SoCal Tournament crown. With 18 goals scored in his nine appearances, Bell is currently averaging 2.0 goals per game for the Trojan cause.

    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. In four of USC's nine championship season, the Trojans have taken three or more total losses.

    Now 22 games into 2014, the Trojans have been putting up some big numbers. Led by Kostas Genidounias with 64 goals, Rex Butler with 34, Matteo Morelli wit 32 and Grant Stein with 31, there are a grand total of 12 Trojans with at least 15 goals apiece. Six of them are freshmen and four are seniors, exhibiting some dangerous balance for USC. To date, USC has outscored opponents 345-144 -- almost triple its foes' scoring count to date. Defensively, USC is allowing just 6.55 goals per game, having held opponents scoreless in the third quarter in seven games.

    Three-time All-American senior Kostas Genidounias has been on the rise in the USC scoring ranks throughout his time at Troy. Named the 2014 KAP7 NorCal Classic MVP last month, he's the Trojans' top scorer this season with 64 goals to date, giving him 243 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 11 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 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 158 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 163 goals to date. What's more, Butler recently nailed his 100th career goal, becoming the 32nd Trojan to hit the mark. He's currently tied at No. 29 all-time alongside current associate head coach Marko Pintaric with 103 career goals.

    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 5.5 saves and 4.8 goals-against per game in his nine appearances. Baron, meanwhile, has capped up in 19 games, hauling in 10.9 saves per game and allowing 6.9 goals-against per game.

    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.

    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. •