IRVINE, CALIF. -- The No. 3-ranked USC men's water polo team now stands alone as the only MPSF team with an undefeated record (5-0) after posting a 6-5 win over No. 4 Stanford (6-1) and earning its third consecutive title at the Southern California Tournament. The early-season tournament brings in 16 teams from around the country, and the top four teams in the nation reached the semifinal round once again in the 2005 showdown at UC Irvine on Sunday. No. 2 California (7-1) beat top-ranked UCLA (6-2) in overtime 10-9 to claim third place. The Trojans had beaten the Bears 8-7 in their semifinal match to move into the final.

 

   
USC's Pavol Valovic was instrumental in their success at the SoCal Tournament. (USC)  

"I'm very proud of the guys," said head coach Jovan Vavic. "They kept their composure in tough moments and were very mentally prepared. They didn't make too many mistakes."

 

Juan Delgadillo claimed the game-winner for USC with 3:37 to go in the game, lacing a shot from the top that was deflected by a Stanford defender. It was the first lead for the Trojans since early in the third quarter, after which Stanford worked ahead to take a 5-4 lead into the final frame. Juraj Zatovic leveled the game at 5-5 at the 6:25 mark in the fourth with a 6-on-5 score from the top. The advantage score was just USC's second in the game, as the Trojans finished 2-of-7 in man-up situations, while Stanford converted three of seven. USC managed to shut down the Stanford 6-on-5 attack in the fourth quarter and hold the Cardinal scoreless thanks in large part to a Zatovic field block and key save from goalie Adam Shilling in the period.

The game started with both defenses in control. Tommy Corcoran got USC on the board first with a two-meter score off a pass from Joe Cosentino. Peter Varellas then evened things with a 6-on-5 score. Varellas also had a hand in several flubbed USC man advantage opportunities, nabbing steals to sidestep the Trojan attack. The teams traded scores once more in the second period, with Zatovic scoring his first of two goals to tie the game at 2-2 for halftime.

The third period saw USC grab an early lead with a score from Cosentino, who beat the shot clock with a shot tipped by a USC defender. Stanford then scored back-to-back goals to take a 4-3 lead midway through the frame, and though Pavol Valovic pulled the Trojans even with a lob, Stanford moved back ahead with two seconds left in the third.

That 5-4 deficit sparked the USC squad to its defensive stand, holding the Cardinal silent while Zatovic and Delgadillo moved the Trojans into position for the tournament crown.

"Juraj and Juan had an awesome tournament," Vavic said. "Our goalies (Shilling and Don Ricci) played great, and out two meter offense and defense were excellent. It was a great team effort."

USC returns to action on Sept. 24 at the Lancers Invite at Cal Baptist. Game schedule for the Trojans is still TBA.

-- Courtesy Southern California