Southern Cal was supposed to be in rebuilding mode last season. With four players that spent time with the U.S. National team having graduated, there was no way USC was going to win a third consecutive NCAA title. The talk before the season was of Cal and UCLA. The Trojans were an afterthought, a decorated champion whose epitaph was already being drafted. By the end of September, that draft had made its way to the garbage can and in December the Men of Troy were once again crowned champions.
All the signs were pointing to a deep run for USC last season. The Trojans were returning Joel Dennerley who was one of the top two goalies in the country. While their depth was young, it was loaded with players who had been among the most coveted recruits in the nation. Finally, they were still led by a coach in Jovan Vavic who is arguably the best tactical mind in water polo.
Vavic spoke about Trojans chances for a four-peat.
What separates USC from the rest of the country is your quality depth. I think there are three to four teams whose starters are on par with yours, but your bench is unparalleled. Can you tell us a little about that quality and how it dictates your attack?
Jovan Vavic: You’re right. We do have decent depth and we haven’t lost too many players from last year. It was the difference maker for us as we won many games last season in the fourth quarter. That being said, I think California will be deeper this year. UCLA is returning almost everybody. Stanford and Pacific will also be tough this year.
Joel Dennerley was arguably the most valuable player in the country last season as he was outstanding for your squad. Can you tell us what makes Joel Dennerley the incredible goalie that he is?
Vavic: Joel is a very hard worker who prepares really well. He is always studying the shooters with our goalie coach. Plus, he’s very long. Longer than your average 6’4″ as his wingspan is more like somebody who is seven feet tall. Joel is going to be twenty-four years old this season. He came to USC with a lot of experience as he had played in Jr. Worlds. Experience is crucial in order to improve as a goalie.
Peter Kurzeka has a chance to graduate as a four-year starter with four championship rings. He is a tremendous player whose accomplishments make him a little underrated. Can you tell us what makes him the standout performer that he is?
Vavic: He is really underrated. People do not know how good he is. This is a kid who won in high school, won on his club team, made an immediate impact and has won here. He should be on the National team. The sooner the better for them. Peter sees the game extremely well. He has the entire package, plus he’s fast.