Trojans aim for third straight national title

first_imgDuring the course of their season, the Trojans’ focus has never wandered beyond their immediate opponent. Now that only two additional victories will crown the No. 1 USC men’s water polo team (26-2) NCAA champions for the third consecutive year, however, it is almost surreal to reflect on how far this team has come and how little it has left to prove.Going for goal · Junior driver Peter Kurzeka, whose 35 goals is third highest this year for USC, will lead USC against St. Francis on Saturday for a spot in the national championship against either Cal or Loyola Marymount. – Katelynn Whitaker | Daily Trojan The Trojans will commence their quest to three-peat this weekend at the NCAA tournament hosted by California. In the semifinal round, the Trojans will face a relative unknown No. 4 St. Francis (24-3) on Saturday at 1 p.m. If the tournament unfolds as expected, the Trojans will face No. 2 Cal (23-3), in the championship game the following day at 3 p.m. To make this titanic clash a reality, however, Cal must first handle No. 3 Loyola Marymount (19-8).The peculiar reality of the NCAA tournament is that, on its face, it does not invite the best teams in the country, almost all of which are members of the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation. Since the Trojans downed the formidable Cardinal ­— arguably their most difficult matchup this season — in the MPSF championship game, the NCAA could not justify giving Stanford the one at-large berth in lieu of Cal, which had a better record and finished first in the MPSF regular season standings. Similarly, there was no space for a potent UCLA squad that finished third in the standings. With those two behemoths looming next year, Cal appears to be the only substantial obstacle remaining between the Trojans and defending their title.“The MPSF tournament is, by far, the most difficult tournament to win. You’re supposed to win three hard games, and many times your first game [in the NCAA tournament] is against a lower-ranked opponent than even your first opponent in the MPSF tournament,” USC coach Jovan Vavic said.True to form, however, Vavic refused to discuss a game plan for Cal, insisting that the team’s sole focus is St. Francis and containing its potent offense.“St. Francis has a lot of big, athletic players from Serbia and Croatia, and they are very good offensively, with a strong goalie,” Vavic said. “We are not preparing for Cal right now. We don’t even know if Cal is going to make it to the finals. LMU is a tough team. You cannot discount LMU.”At the beginning of the season, the program was ostensibly in rebuilding mode, trying to replenish a roster that had lost several standout senior contributors. The thought now seems laughable. Certainly, the preseason pundits who picked the Trojans to finish fourth in their own conference severely underestimated Vavic’s ability to integrate a bevy of new freshmen talent into his proven system. In fact, on Tuesday Vavic earned his combined ninth MPSF Coach of the Year honor between coaching both the USC men’s and women’s water polo teams.Eager to dispel any chances of a letdown, Vavic has drilled into his team that this is no time to ease up. The St. Francis team knows that an upset would instantly become the signature win in its program’s history. Cal and LMU are both talented teams with which the Trojans are well-acquainted. Hopefully, the team’s character and determination will continue to shine through in critical games.“We’ve grown together from all the way back this spring,” junior driver Peter Kurzeka — selected to the 2010 All-MPSF first team — said. “Knowing that we were losing so much talent, we knew we needed to work hard all the way through. The team has bonded and everyone has bought in.”last_img read more

Stock Watch: Cisco, receivers up; Strickland, pass rush down after Wagner

first_imgSyracuse (2-0) handled Wagner (1-1), 62-10, in the Orange’s home opener on Saturday by dominating all three phases of play.Offensively, SU more or less moved the ball at will while the defense stymied almost everything Wagner tried to do. The punt block unit even notched a special teams touchdown.Here are the risers and fallers after Week 2.Stock upAndre CiscoAdvertisementThis is placeholder textTwice within the first 14 plays from scrimmage, Cisco intercepted Wagner quarterback T.J. Linta. The first interception came on the Seahawks’ opening series, as Linta went over the middle on third down and Cisco stepped in front to nab the ball.A Syracuse touchdown later, and Linta rolled left into the lane Kendall Coleman was barrelling down. Without really looking, Linta threw the ball toward a receiver sitting about five yards down field. He didn’t see Cisco, who nabbed his second pick with 10:27 left in the first quarter.Cisco’s pair of takeaways made for a nice home opener and, coupled with his Week 1 interception at Western Michigan, Cisco’s stock is taking off.Jarveon HowardA true freshman running back from the same hometown as all-time NFL great Walter Payton — Columbia, Mississippi — made his debut for Syracuse, rushing 13 times for 69 total yards (5.3 yards per carry). Running back counterparts Dontae Strickland and Moe Neal each toted the ball nine times.It’s hard to get a real pulse on how much Jarveon Howard will play moving forward, especially through the heart of Atlantic Coast Conference play. But even against an inferior Wagner team, Howard ran aggressively and with good vision, only getting dropped for a loss once.Strickland and Neal will still have first shot for backfield touches, but Howard is a capable option if either falter.Receivers not named Jamal CustisLeaving WMU last week, only one Syracuse wide receiver, Jamal Custis, had caught a pass. That changed Saturday with six receivers other than Custis getting involved.The trio of Sean Riley (six catches, 41 yards and a touchdown), Devin Butler (four catches for 37 yards) and Nykeim Johnson (three catches, 65 yards and a touchdown) showed up. Those three were boosted by freshman Taj Harris and redshirt freshman Sharod Johnson. Harris caught his first collegiate pass for a touchdown late in the first quarter.Custis still had his share of looks — five catches, 41 yards and a touchdown — but on Saturday, SU’s receiving corps finally showed up.Stock downDontae StricklandStrickland, through two games, has amassed 73 yards on 20 carries. That’s a meager 3.65 yards per carry. Moe Neal’s 4.08 isn’t much better. Neal has passed Strickland as a runner, and that’s been reflected in the touches so far: 38 to Neal, 20 to Strickland.Pass blocking is where Strickland far outshines his younger counterparts, thus keeping him on the field. Protecting Eric Dungey is of critical importance, but Strickland needs to produce more with the chances he’s given.The upside for Strickland is that through two games, he has four touchdowns, equalling his production from each of the past two years. If the rushing yards start to come, Strickland can reassert himself as top dog in the backfield.The pass rushAfter producing one sack for a two-yard loss against WMU in the opener, SU’s pass rush managed only two sacks for 19 yards against an FCS team Saturday.Starting defensive lineman Kendall Coleman said after beating the Broncos that the Orange’s pass rush needed to be better, but against a much weaker opponent, there wasn’t much difference.Players did get home a little more frequently, but Linta consistently had enough time in the pocket to make his read or recognize the rush and roll out accordingly.Florida State and Deondre Francois will be in the Carrier Dome next Saturday, and the Orange can’t afford to let the Seminoles’ signal caller stand in the pocket. Facebook Twitter Google+ Commentscenter_img Published on September 10, 2018 at 12:28 am Contact Andrew: | @A_E_Grahamlast_img read more