Dec. 6, 2008


Courtesy of Southern California

PALO ALTO, CALIF. - The top seed for the fourth straight year at the NCAA Championships, USC's men's water polo has taken down its semifinal foe once again to take its fourth consecutive trip to the national title match and stand within reach of an undefeated season. Tonight at Stanford's Avery Aquatic Center, the Trojans took on No. 4 seed Navy and powered out of an early hole to stake a claim on a spot in the final with a 14-9 win over the Midshipmen. Navy closes out its season with a 20-10 record, while USC improves it 2008 mark to 28-0. USC will face either host Stanford or Loyola Marymount in the NCAA championship game at 3 p.m. on Sunday (Dec. 7).

In tonight's semifinal, the Trojans opened the game in an offensive slump while Navy managed three straight scores against USC's top-ranked defense. The 3-0 deficit served as a loud wakeup call for the Trojans, who made moves to tighten up defensively and find an offensive spark. That spark came from the 5-meter line, but began on an ejection earned off the drive by J.W. Krumpholz. On the ensuing 6-on-5, Matt Sagehorn earned a 5-meter penalty shot for the Trojans, and Shea Buckner put the shot away to stop the scoring drought for USC, making it 3-1 Navy with one second left in the first period.

USC took that boost and ran with it, firing off three goals in three minutes to snag the lead. Sagehorn ripped in his first of four goals on the night to open the second period, and Peter Kurzeka finished off a one on nobody after nabbing a steal at half-tank. Tied up 3-3, USC got a blazing skipper from Justin Rappel that took the Trojans into the lead 4-3. Later in the frame, USC added to the advantage on another 5-meter - this one earned by Buckner and put away by Sagehorn, making it 5-3. Navy would close to within one when a shot from Kevin Bell was deflected past USC goalie Joel Dennerley. Sagehorn rocketed in his third of the day just four seconds away from halftime for a 6-4 USC lead that also boosted the Trojans' scoring momentum after the half.

USC opened the second half with another flurry of goals to pad its lead over the Midshipmen. Rappel ripped in a nearside skip on a USC 6-on-5 to start it off, and later dished a power play pass to Kyle Sterling for an 8-4 USC lead. Jovan Vranes unleashed a booming strike next, taking USC ahead 9-4 at the 6:05 mark of the third period. Navy found some cracks in the USC defense, tallying four goals during the third period, but USC knocked in two more before the buzzer on scores from Krumpholz and Kurzeka to hold an 11-8 lead entering the final frame.

A sidearm strike from Rappel made it 12-8 USC early in the fourth, notching a hat trick for the junior on the day. Dennerley denied a close-range shot by Navy next to hold that lead, only to see Navy earn a 5-meter and slot it with 4:19 to go. That would be all the USC defense would allow the rest of the way, while Sagehorn delivered his fourth and Vranes served up an offspeed bar-in score to round out a 14-9 win for USC and send the Trojans into tomorrow's championship game with a 28-game winning streak.

USC 14, Navy 9
Navy 3 - 1 - 4 - 1 -- 9
USC 1 - 5 - 5 - 3 -- 14

USC - Matt Sagehorn 4, Justin Rappel 3, Peter Kurzeka 2, Jovan Vranes 2, Shea Buckner, Kyle Sterling, J.W. Krumpholz.
Navy - Kyle Wertz 3, Michael Mulvey 2, Kevin Bell 2, Marek Malik, Alex Kofsky.

SAVES: Joel Dennerley (USC) 13, Ben Weil (USC) 2, Brett Rajchel (Navy) 6.

2008 Water Polo National Semifinal Quotes
USC vs. Navy
December 6, 2008
Avery Aquatic Center - Stanford, Calif.

Head Coach Jovan Vavic
On beating Navy...
The guys really stepped up and did a great job. We did a good job shooting the ball. We did what we needed to do. Navy is a tough team, very physical. They had a good plan and played well, so you have to give them credit. But our guys stepped up when they needed to.

On how much he knew about Navy...
We had not played them this year, so really not that much. We had seen them in the NorCal tournament, but that was a couple of months ago. Stanford is a different issue because we have seen Stanford many times, but Navy is new to us.

On USC driver Matt Sagehorn...
He played tough and he had a good shooting day. He is a warrior; I was very pleased with how he played.

On the offense...
I think the counter-attack is a big strength for us. We moved the ball well, we adjusted well and I am just happy with the win.

On the defense...
I think we made some defensive individual mistakes. It was just little things like a guy doesn't get his legs under him. There was a little laziness, a little nerves.

USC driver Justin Rappel
On playing at Stanford...
It was great playing here. I love the facility, love the atmosphere, love the crowd. It is just great to be back in Palo Alto.

USC Two-Meter Arjan Ligtenberg
On his familiarity with Stanford players...
Water polo is a pretty close knit community, so regardless of if you grow up in Palo Alto or somewhere else we all play with each other, so it doesn't really matter.

On choosing USC...
It's been great. It is a great school academically. One of the reasons I came to USC is the coaching staff and them teaching me fundamentals and teaching me everything about the game. They are from Europe and grew up playing the game their whole life so it was a good place for me to progress as far as I can.

On being at USC...
One of the great things about USC is that we bring in so many great players that there is competition every day. There is always someone behind you pushing you, trying to take your place. You also have to give the coaching staff a lot of credit and we have five coaches so there is always someone to work on things individually with you.

Navy Head Coach Mike Schofield
On Navy's effort...
I was really proud of our team. I thought we really came to play and never gave up. Our goal was to hang around for four quarters, but we just came up a little short. I am proud of our team and the effort that they gave us.

On being proud of his team...
They came to play and just gave us everything that they had. It is a pleasure to be around when that happens.

Navy attacker Kyle Wertz
On the early lead against USC...
After that 3-0 lead early we were just kind of on a high, but we knew that we had to keep going and keep fighting. USC was strong, they fought back and we weren't able to hold them off.

On tomorrow's game...
USC is a great team and doing as well as we did I think we have a great chance of winning tomorrow. We need to do even more than we did today.

Navy attacker Michael Mulvey
On ending his water polo career tomorrow...
It has been the theme the whole season. This is my last shot at this so I am doing the best that I can. I am trying to teach these guys everything I know before I leave. We'll see how this last game goes.

On staying with USC...
USC is obviously a great team. They weren't going to take that laying down. A lot of people don't believe in us or what we can do, but those three goals kind of showed what we can do.