Top-Seeded Trojans Take Aim At Sixth Straight National Championship

    Jovan Vavic is looking to hoist another NCAA trophy when the Trojans get back to Palo Alto.

    Dec. 4, 2013

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    This week, the No. 1 USC men's water polo team heads back to where it all began. Six years ago, the Trojans kickstarted a winning campaign with their undefeated run to the 2008 NCAA Championship. USC had topped host Stanford for a national title that would be followed by victorious finishes by the Trojans in each of the next four seasons. Now, USC returns to the site where the fuse was lit on a run of titles never before seen in collegiate men's water polo. And this weekend, the Trojans have a chance to become the first water polo team -- men's or women's -- to win six consecutive national championships. The No. 1 seed in the National Collegiate Championships for the ninth straight season, the Trojans are also making their ninth straight trip to the tournament. After setting up camp at the Avery Aquatic Center in Palo Alto, Calif., USC (26-4) will open up its defense of five consecutive crowns with a semifinal bout at 1 p.m. on Saturday (Dec. 7). The Trojans will face the winner of Thursday's play-in game between No. 4 seed UC San Diego (14-13) and No. 5 seed St. Francis Brooklyn (22-10). On the other side of the bracket, No. 2 Pacific (22-4) awaits the play-in winner of No. 3 host Stanford (21-5) and No. 6 Whittier (19-12) for the other semifinal. On Sunday (Dec. 8) the National Championship game is set for 3 p.m., preceded by the third-place game at 1 p.m. All games will be streamed live on




    The five-time defending NCAA champion Trojans had been ranked No. 1 from Nov. 9, 2011, through to Sept. 25, 2013, until a Sept. 22 loss to UCLA snapped a 41-game winning streak held by the Trojans. On Oct. 13, USC avenged that loss to the Bruins and the Trojans jumped back to the top of the national rankings. USC's Nov. 9 loss to Pacific, however, dropped the Trojans down to No. 2, snapping a four-week stint on top. After falling to Stanford and UCLA, USC stood at No. 4, only to surge back to lead the nation at No. 1 this week following the Trojans' powerful run to the MPSF Championship.

    28th -- NCAA appearance all-time
    9th -- consecutive NCAA appearance
    9th -- consecutive No. 1 seed
    8 -- consecutive NCAA title matches
    8 -- total national championships won
    6 -- NCAA titles won in past 8 years
    5 -- consecutive national championships
    5 -- most consecutive titles won by any collegiate water polo team (USC men/UCLA women)
    5 -- Kostas Genidounias' career scoring rank
    1 -- Nikola Vavic's career scoring rank
    463 -- program-record goals scored in 2013

    USC came into last week's MPSF Tournament as the No. 4 seed in dire need of a strong performance in order to earn a place at the upcoming NCAA Championships where the Trojans are aiming for a sixth consecutive national championship. But first, USC had to impress -- and win -- at the MPSF Tournament. The No. 4 seeds opened up with a 12-9 win over No. 5 California to advance to the semifinals, where the Trojans faced top-seeded host Pacific. USC was ready to battle the Tigers and racked up an overpowering 18-13 upset win to move into the title match. There, the Trojans were up against No. 2 seed Stanford, which had beaten USC with an overtime buzzer-beater in the teams' last meeting. USC was on its game once again, leaving the Cardinal out of reach with a 10-8 win that rolled up the championship and the automatic ticket to the NCAA Tournament. Three Trojans -- Nikola Vavic, James Clark and Kostas Genidounias -- were named to the MPSF All-Tournament Team. MPSF Tournament MVP Vavic led the Trojans in scoring in each game, pinning up hat tricks against Cal and Pacific and adding two more against Stanford to finish the tourney with eight goals. That bumped the senior's season total up to 75 -- fifth most in USC history. Junior Genidounias was USC's second leading scorer at the 2013 MPSF Championships, serving up six goals on a hat trick vs. Cal, a pair against Pacific and one more in the title match against the Cardinal. He remains USC's top scorer this season with 76 goals -- fourth most in USC program history. Senior goalie Clark was a veritable wall for the Trojan defense, going biggest with a career-high 16 saves in the title match. He posted double-digit saves in every game at the tourney, notching 12 against Cal and then 11 more against Pacific before that career day against the Cardinal. His 233 saves this season is the fifth most in program history.

    In 2012, USC was the top seed in the NCAA Tournament for the eighth straight season, having earned an automatic bid with an undefeated season run to the Trojans' eighth MPSF Tournament title. For the eighth straight season, USC led the nation in defense with 5.67 goals-against per game, and was also averaging 14.3 goals per game on the offensive end. Junior Nikola Vavic was leading USC in scoring with 79 goals -- third most in program history -- followed by 62 from sophomore Kostas Genidounias. In all, it was the highest-powered offense ever for the Trojans, who had scored 387 total goals to better the previous record of 382 set in 2010. Junior goalie James Clark was averaging 10.1 saves and 6.0 goals-against per game in his first season as a Trojan. Overall, USC had outscored opponents 387-153 to date, including nine different scorers with at least 15 goals so far, and six different scorers averaging at least one goal per game. The 2012 Trojans were hosting the NCAA Tournament and looking to post the second undefeated season in program history. USC opened the 2012 tourney with an 18-7 win over Air Force to make history as the first team ever to compete in eight consecutive national championship games. The 2012 title match was a wild one, as USC trailed by as much as three goals in the game before fighting back and getting a clutch go-ahead goal from Genidounias with 40 seconds left in regulation. One last defensive stand sealed the deal on the Trojans' fifth straight national championship and eighth overall title with the 11-10 win over their rivals in USC's home pool. Michael Rosenthal was named the NCAA Tournament MVP, joined by Genidounias and Vavic on the All-Tournament First Team and with Clark, Mace Rapsey and Tobias Preuss on the Second Team.

    AND NOW...
    USC holds a 26-4 overall record entering the 2013 National Collegiate Championships, having earned the automatic bid into this year's tourney as the MPSF Tournament champion, capped by a 10-8 win over Stanford last weekend in Stockton. The NCAA title winners in 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2012, the Trojans are making their 28th overall appearance in the national tournament. With six crowns claimed in the past eight seasons, USC has already made history as the first collegiate men's water polo team to make eight consecutive appearances in a national championship game and also holds the men's record with five straight national titles. This year, the Trojans can also become the first collegiate water polo team -- men's or women's -- ever to win six consecutive crowns. For the first time in nine seasons, USC is not the nation's defensive leader, ranking second in the MPSF with 6.63 goals-against per game. The top defensive team this season, however, is not in the mix for NCAA action this year. And the 2013 Trojans have countered with their most powerful offense in program history. USC has accumulated 463 goals in its 30 games to date, blowing away the previous record set last season with 416 goals scored in 2012. As a team, USC is averaging 15.6 goals per game, led by junior Kostas Genidounias with 76 goals to date and senior Nikola Vavic with 75. Those counts are the fourth and fifth most single-season goals, respectively, in program history. USC's senior goalie James Clark is averaging 9.61 saves and 6.76 goals-against per game. Overall, USC has outscored opponents 463-199, with eight different Trojans having scored 20 or more goals so far and an average of eight different USC scorers per game.

    The 2013 National Collegiate Championships have a different format from the past, with six teams in the mix as opposed to four in past years. This season, the top two seeds earn a place in the semifinal round, where they will await winners of play-in games between the No. 3-6 seeded teams. MPSF Tournament champion USC (26-4) has picked up the top seed, with MPSF-mate Pacific (22-4) the No. 2 seed in the opposite semifinal. A third MPSF team and host Stanford (21-5) has picked up the No. 3 seed, followed by the automatic bids from other conference tournaments. Western Water Polo Association winner UC San Diego (14-13) is seeded at No. 4; Collegiate Water Polo Association champ St. Francis Brooklyn (22-10) is the No. 5 seed; and Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference winner Whitter (19-12) is seeded No. 6. While the Trojans are making their ninth straight trip to the tournament, Pacific is making its first since 1993, and Stanford is in for the first time since 2008, when USC beat the Cardinal in Palo Alto to start the Trojans' championship streak. UC San Diego last reached the tourney in 2011; St. Francis Brooklyn was in the mix at last year's tournament; and Whittier is making its first-ever NCAA appearance.

    USC vs. Pacific
    All-time: 44-8
    This season: 2-1
    Last: W 18-3 (MPSF Semis - Nov. 30, 2013)
    Last in NCAA Tourn.: None

    USC vs. Stanford
    All-time: 58-57
    This season: 2-1
    Last: W 10-8 (MPSF Final - Dec. 1, 2013)
    Last in NCAA Tourn.: W 7-5 (2008 final)

    USC vs. UC San Diego
    All-time: 33-2
    This season: 1-0
    Last: W 17-4 (Sept. 14, 2013)
    Last in NCAA Tourn.: L 9-8 (2000 semi)

    USC vs. St. Francis Brooklyn
    All-time: 6-0
    This season: 1-0
    Last: W 13-4 (Oct. 12, 2013)
    Last in NCAA Tourn.: W 10-7 (2010 semi)

    USC vs. Whittier
    All-time: 4-0
    This season: 2-0
    Last: W 23-2 (Sept. 28, 2013)
    Last in NCAA Tourn.: None

    The 2013 Trojans have built up their most powerful offense in program history, netting a record 468 goals to date to eclipse last year's record-setting 416. Led by Kostas Genidounias with 76 goals -- fourth most in USC history -- and Nikola Vavic with 75 goals -- fifth most in program history -- USC has more high-powered hitters in Connor Virjee with 49 goals and Mace Rapsey with 47. In all, USC has outscored opponents 468-199 -- more than doubling its foes' scoring count to date. Defensively, USC is allowing just 6.63 goals per game and has held opponents scoreless in 24 periods of regulation play so far, including 12 games where the Trojans shut out opponents in the first period. USC currently ranks No. 1 in the MPSF in offense (15.6 gpg) and No. 2 in defense (6.63 gapg).

    Nikola Vavic entered 2013 in the books ranked No. 4 all-time in USC scoring history. During USC's run to the SoCal Tournament championship, Vavic took over the No. 1 spot, previously occupied by Juraj Zatovic since 2005. Vavic is creating some extra space at the top now, holding 248 career goals and counting. Also having officially made their marks in the USC charts are senior Jeremy Davie and junior Kostas Genidounias, who broke through the 100-goal threshold on the first weekend of action. Genidounias is now up to No. 5 all-time with 175 career goals -- having broken into the top-10 on Oct. 19 -- and Davie ranks No. 18 with 126 to date. Senior Mace Rapsey joined those teammates in the century club on Oct. 12, as the hot-handed senior now has 123 career goals to rank No. 20 all-time, having edged out current USC head assistant coach Marko Pintaric, who scored 103 during his Trojan career. Senior Connor Virjee in on the brink of hitting the century mark, now with 94 in his career.

    USC has played in the NCAA championship game nine times in the past decade. Seven national titles have come during that span. But it isn't just a place in the final that USC is aiming for. No, for 2013 the Trojans have only one mission. USC has won five consecutive titles, and the Trojans can make more history in extending that streak to six this season. No collegiate water polo team has won more than five crowns in a row. USC matched Cal's then-record three-in-a-row by beating the Bears in their home pool in 2010. In 2011, the Trojans etched their place in history with a fourth straight in beating UCLA. And in 2012 USC defended its own pool and beat the Bruins in the final again to stretch that streak to five.

    USC's NCAA championship streak began before this incoming freshman class started high school. So although the 2013 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 NCAA championship ring in his trophy case. The senior class of five Trojans, meanwhile, have accumulated 13 rings among them. Four of those seniors -- Jeremy Davie, Mace Rapsey, Nikola Vavic and Connor Virjee -- along with redshirt juniors Rex Butler, Max Hurst-Mendoza, Ivan Kustic and Zach Lucas were true freshmen in 2010 when USC grabbed its third straight title. Senior goalie James Clark, meanwhile, has experienced only four losses as a Trojan. He began his USC career in the cage last season, when the Trojans rolled to a perfect 29-0 record.

    Senior Nikola Vavic and junior Kostas Genidounias combined for a whopping 151 goals last season. Vavic set the USC record for single-season scoring with 83 goals in 2012, while Genidounias hit the No. 5 all-time mark with 68 goals. In all, four of USC's top five scorers from 2012 are back. Mace Rapsey and Jeremy Davie provided 30 and 29 goals, respectively, last year. Zach Lucas, Rex Butler, Connor Virjee and Marc Vonderweidt each delivered at least 10 goals in 2012.

    The Trojan roster again boasts three standout players from Down Under. Goalie James Clark was a 2012 Olympian alongside former Trojan goalie Joel Dennerley. Clark earned All-American status in 2012, while his fellow Aussies Jeremy Davie and Mace Rapsey earned repeat All-American accolades. As key members of the past three runs to NCAA glory, Davie and Rapsey combined for 175 goals in their first three seasons of work. Clark averaged 10.1 saves and 6.3 goals against per game in his debut season with the Trojans last year.

    2012 RECAP
    USC rolled undefeated through its 2012 campaign, winning its eighth MPSF Tournament title and going on to claim its eighth overall national championship with a dramatic comeback win to beat crosstown rival UCLA 11-10 in the Trojans' home pool. Head coach Jovan Vavic was named National Coach of the Year in leading the Trojans to a perfect 29-0 record for the second time in five seasons. National Player of the Year Nikola Vavic led a group of eight All-Americans, including seniors Matt Burton, Michael Rosenthal and Stephen Siri, juniors Jeremy Davie and Mace Rapsey and sophomore Kostas Genidounias. USC was ranked No. 1 from start to finish in 2012, with Nikola Vavic setting a new USC with 83 goals scored in the season en route to being named a finalist for the Cutino Award. In all, the Trojan offense -- charged by 21 different scorers -- averaged 14.3 goals per game, while the defense again led the nation with just 5.9 goals against per game. USC outscored opponents 416-170 in 2012, marking the most goals scored in a year by the Trojans since at least 1983.

    Since fielding a football team in 1888, USC has had an unparalleled athletic tradition, including 120 national team championships, an unprecedented 419 Olympians and 52 NCAA Postgraduate Scholars as the Trojan family celebrates its 125th anniversary this 2013-14 academic year. Including the USC women's soccer team's historic 2007 NCAA Championship victory, USC boasts a grand total of 120 national team championships, including a national-best 82 men's NCAA crowns. Trojan men have won more individual NCAA titles (309) than those from any other school, while the Women of Troy have added another 69 individual NCAA titles. Four Trojans have won the prestigious Sullivan Award as the nation's top amateur athlete. Two Women of Troy athletes have won the Honda Cup as the top collegiate female athlete of the year and there have been 15 Honda Award winners as the top female athlete in their sport. USC not only has more Olympians than any school, but more Olympic medalists (287) and gold medalists (135). USC water polo is a big part of that Olympic tradition, having sent 10 Trojans to the 2012 Olympics in Beijing, with four Trojans winning medals. Thanks in part to USC's water polo participants, a Trojan has won a gold medal in every summer Olympics since 1912. Go to to revisit the athletic highlights for Trojans the past 125 years. •