BELMONT SHORES, Calif., November 30. TO be the champ you gotta beat the champ. And that's exactly what USC men's water polo coach Jovan Vavic's Trojans did here this evening.
Top-ranked nationally and top-seeded here at the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation Tournament in the Belmont Plaza Olympic Pool, the powerful Trojans throttled No. 2-seed Stanford, 8-6, to win the MPSF Championship.
The victory gave USC (21-3) an automatic berth in next weekend's NCAA Championships at (where else?) Stanford's Avery Aquatic Center, marking the first time in the tourney's 35-yer history that it has been held at any site other than here at Belmont, Loyola-Marymount University in suburban Los Angeles (once last year) and several times at the Hall of Fame Pool in Ft. Lauderdale.
Joining USC on The Farm will be host Stanford (21-4), which has now lost three times to the Trojans this season; LMU, winner of the Western Water Polo Assn. title last weekend at Redlands, and Navy, whcih will represent the east off its 8-6 victory over Princeton.
In a sense it's "deja vu all over again" for Coach John Vargas' Cardinal, double-defending NCAA champs and winners of nine NCAA titles overall (not all under their present coach as this is only his second season there). Stanford lost in the semis of last year's MPSF tourney but was still given the nod over runner-up UCLA and went on to defeat Cal for the championship.
USC has one water polo title, winning the crown five seasons ago, also under Vavic. Should the Trojans capture a second championship next weekend and then have its No. 2-ranked football team go on to defeat top-ranked Oklahoma in the Sugar Bowl Jan. 4 and preseumably win the national title, it would be an unprecedented achievement. No school has ever won polo and football in the same season. (Forty-one years ago SC won the national football championship, capped by a win a win over Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl, then won the NCAA swimming crown the following March under legendary and now-retired Coach Peter Daland, the first of his eight NCAA championships. Water polo did not become an official NCAA Championship sport until 1969.)
Vargas, in winning the title last season in his rookie year, became the first coach to accomplish that particular feat. He's also the only coach to win as a player too (U Cal Irvine, '82).
The pairings: USC (1) vs. Navy (4); Stanford (2) vs. LMU (3).
The Trojans and Cardinal have not played the Middies this season but each has a win over Loyola's Lions — USC by the score of 11-6, and Stanford, 11-4.
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The Trojans used strong defense and a steady offense to post their win over second-seeded Stanford. USC scored two goals in every quarter and held a potent Cardinal offense to only two second-half goals — none in the third-quarter — en route to the win. Goalkeeper Bozidar Damjanovic recorded six saves while allowing six goals in the match. James Shin, Trevor Clark and Juraj Zatovic each scored twice for USC, while Gadi Hadar and Cameron Kaiser also found the back of the net.
Stanford was led by junior driver Tony Azevedo, who turned in his second-successive hat trick and was the tourney's leading scorer with 10 goals. Greg Crum, Thomas Hopkins and Peter Varellas also scored for the Cardinal.
#2 Stanford (21-4) 1-3-0-2=6
#1 USC (22-3) 2-2-2-2=8
STAN: Azevedo (3), Crum, Varellas, Hopkins
USC: Zatovic (2), Shin (2), Clark (2), Kaiser, Hadar
STAN: Taylor (8 GA A, 6 saves)
USC: Damjanovic (6 GA A, 6 saves)
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Loyola Marymount (18-13) earned a berth in the Final Four by virtue of its second Western Water Polo Association conference title in three years Nov. 22 at Redlands, posting a 6-5 victory over U Cal. San Diego.
The Lions secured an early 2-0 lead over the Tritons, and remained in the lead for the entire game.
Navy dispatched Princeton, 8-6, to win the Collegiate Water Polo Association Eastern Championship Nov. 16 in Annapolis.
The victory gave Navy (25-6) an automatic bid to the tournament.
No team from outside California has ever made it into the finals and only Stanford, Cal, UCLA and Irvine have won more than once. Cal leads with 11 titles, followed by Stanford's 9 and UCLA's 7.