LOS ANGELES, CA – At long last, USC enters a season as the defending NCAA men’s water polo champions. Now that the first one is out of the way, will more follow? USC Coach Jovan Vavic believes so.
“We can be better than last year,” said Vavic, who takes over the head coaching reins from John Williams (he retired this summer after 26 years in the position). “If we stay healthy and are 100 percent going into the postseason, we are going to be very tough to beat. There is a lot of great competition out there, but I feel we can be the best team again.”
After taking second place six times in previous NCAA competitions, the Trojans broke through in the 1998 championship game by beating Stanford, 9-8, in overtime. It was a joyous occasion and the effects are still being felt.
It’s an atmosphere conducive to winning more championships, already evidenced by USC’s victory this summer at the Summer Nationals club tournament.
USC lost only a few key players from last year’s team that finished 25-3, most notably Marko Pintaric. He was the NCAA Player of the Year and hit the game-winning two-pointer in overtime in the NCAA championship game.
However, the Trojans return six players who earned All-American status in 1998. And, USC is ranked No. 1 in the preseason national poll.
Highlighting the list of returners is senior goalie Richard McEvoy, a two-time All-American third teamer who keys an outstanding Trojan defense that gave up just 6.3 points per game in 1998 (the school’s best mark since 1980). McEvoy is backed up by fellow senior Darin Smith.
The offense also returns several standouts. Junior driver George Csaszar led the Trojans in scoring last year with 60 points and was an All-American second teamer. Senior 2-meter man James Castle added 37 points and also made the All-American second team.
Three returning Trojans earned 1998 All-American honorable mention acclaim: sophomore 2- meter man Ivan Babic (37 points), senior 2-meter man Peter Janov (34 points) and senior driver Allen Basso (25 points).