LA JOLLA, Calif. -- It wasn’t the ending USC’s Kostas Genidounias wanted, losing to UCLA 9-8 in the finals of the NCAA Men’s Water Polo Championships, but it was about the only disappointment in his stellar career.
Two years ago, Genidounias broke UCLA’s heart when he scored the game-winner in the national championship match against the Bruins to give USC its fifth consecutive national title.Sunday, Genidounias, a senior, had a chance to do it again. This time, his shot attempt to tie the game in the final seconds was field blocked and landed harmlessly away from the goal.
When Genidounias came out of the Canyonview pool at the UC San Diego campus, he embraced one of USC’s assistant coaches and said ‘I’m sorry.” It was typical humility from one of the team’s leaders.
“As a captain and the player they look to at the end of the game, they expect me to score and I didn’t deliver that time,” Genidounias said. “It’s just my character to apologize, but coach said I didn’t have to apologize for anything.”
If it wasn’t for Genidounias, the Trojans wouldn’t have been trying for its seventh consecutive NCAA Men’s Water Polo Championship.
The day before, Genidounias scored the tying goal in the semifinals against Stanford to force the game to overtime and then had the game winner.
"Last night’s game was amazing,” Genidounias said of the win against the Cardinal. “I’ve had a lot of great moments here. Obviously the three top moments were the NCAA championships, but my time here has been incredible. Like I’ve said, it’s the best decision I’ve ever made.”
It was made even more special because his parents flew from Greece to watch him play for the first time as a Trojan, watching the other championship games on a live video stream at home. His twin sister, Maria, also came, surprising her brother.
“We are very excited to be here to watch him play,”Sofaklis Genidounias, Kostas’ father, said. “We have seen him play on the computer every year but this is very different.”
Despite being a top high school player in Greece and a star on that country’s national junior team, it was Genidounias who had to persuade USC coach Jovan Vavic to give him a scholarship.
“I went to American High School in Greece. It was an option of mine to come to America,” Genidounias said. “I looked up USA Water Polo and USC was No. 1 so that’s where I wanted to go. When I first emailed him and we exchanged emails, he told me to send bio and what I’ve done. He didn’t seem that impressed.”
That changed when Genidounias led his junior national team and was named MVP.
“I emailed him and he immediately asked for my phone number and called me two hours later,” Genidounias said. “I was 17 and he told me there wasn’t enough money for a scholarship and if I was willing to wait for a year I could join the team.”
It was a decision his parents enthusiastically endorsed.
“We were very supportive when he wanted to come to USC,” said Lilly Genidounias, Kostas’ mom. “It was tough to see him leave but we knew it was for the best. The chance to play here and get a good education was very important to us. We are very pleased he decided to do this.”
His impact was immediate. Genidounias was USC's third leading scorer with 31 goals and earned All-America Honorable Mention and All-MPSF Honorable Mention.
In his sophomore and junior years, Genidounias was the second leading scorer on the team and earned first team All-American and Conference honors.
His senior season was easily his best. He scored 80 goals and finished as the Trojans career scoring leader with 261, en route to being named conference Player of the Year and first-team All-American.
“We’ve never had a player like Kostas,” said Vavic, who has coached the team for 20 years. “He’s the most unique player I’ve ever had. He’s the best player this program’s ever had. He’s carried us this season and been the man with character, toughness, unselfishness, every thing you can ask for in a player. We are going to miss him.”
Genedounias was hoping for one last magical moment and it almost happened. The team trailed by three entering the fourth period and Genedounias scored two goals and got an assist on the other to tie the game at 8. After UCLA scored, USC had one last chance, but Genedounias couldn’t convert.
"The play was for me to go pick another player so I can get an easier defender on me,” Genedounias said. “Cristiano Mirarchi has been doing a great job all season long guarding me. The pick didn’t work, I was trying to get a foul, that didn’t happen. I was like 7-8 meters and it wasn’t Christiano that blocked the shot it was the player behind him. Last night it went, this night it didn’t, that’s what happens in sports.”