Dec. 5, 2009


By Jon Marks
Special to

PRINCETON, N.J.—The dream match nearly everyone hoped for is now set.

But Sunday’s NCAA men’s water polo championship clash between USC and UCLA certainly didn’t come easy.

Top-ranked USC seeks it second straight championship and fifth in school history and will have to go through its most bitter rival to claim it.

Right up there with the ranks of Army-Navy, Ohio State-Michigan, Harvard-Yale and other classics, USC-UCLA has always been special.  No matter what the sport.

“I think it’s awesome,” said UCLA goalie Chay Lapin, following his team’s harrowing 9-8 overtime victory over Loyola. “And for the last game in my senior year that’s even better.

“It’s the icing on the cake. I wouldn’t want any other end.”

The feeling is mutual for the 25-2 Trojans, whose only losses came against the Bruins, most recently at last week’s Mountain Pacific Sports Federation tournament.

“We definitely want to take some revenge for that,’’ said USC’s Shea Buckner, who scored two goals in the Trojans’ 13-3 opening game blowout of host Princeton.  “Playing UCLA here means a lot. They’re out cross-town rivals. Everything at school is ‘Beat UCLA.’”

Should the Trojans do it, not only would it mean an NCAA crown, but for seniors like Buckner and J.W. Krumpholz, it would give them 100 wins for their career.

“Our whole goal is winning the championship,” said Krumpholz, who scored three second period goals to help break the game open.  “To win 100 and win a championship on the same day, it can’t get better than that.’’

Trojans’ coach Jovan Vavic says this time it will come down to coming out with a better frame of mind than in last week’s 10-6 loss and a 5-4 setback 10 weeks ago.

“They were more determined in both games,” said Vavic, whose club will play in a NCAA record fifth straight championship game. “They played with more desire. That’s not going to happen tomorrow.”

UCLA’s Adam Wright  doesn’t seem particularly worried about the extra energy his team had to expend before Cole Consani’s goal with 37 seconds remaining in overtime beat LMU.

“It’s like chess,” said Wright, who’d love another five-goal performance like Scott Davidson had tonight. “They make a move, so you’ve gotta make a move. But I think in the end of the day it comes down to defense. It always has in almost any sport.

Neither side can wait.

“It will come down to who wants the championship more,” Krumpholz said.  “Coach has prepared us for every aspect. We’ll have our fans. I’m sure they’ll have theirs.’’

Only this time the showdown will be here rather than the L.A. Coliseum or Pauley Pavilion.

“We’re not where I want us to be, but we’re getting better,’’ said Wright of his 23-6 squad that goes in a slight underdog. “If I had to guess it will come down to a one-goal game at the end, where a 6-on-5 or 5-on-6 (either a man advantage or penalty kill) will decide it.

“It’s been like that all year.”

And what does a neutral party think?

“It’ll be a great game,” said LMU coach John Loughran.