CWPA Women’s Water Polo Top 10: In the Wake of Vavic Firing, Will USC Ever Be the Same Again?

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Even though he's no longer coaching USC, Jovan Vavic will cast a long shadow on the 2019 women's season. Photo Courtesy: Catharyn Hayne

Despite all the drama surrounding their former coach, the sun WILL continue to come up on the USC season. In fact, it will certainly rise (and set) over the Duke Kahanamoku Aquatic Center in Honolulu—one of the country’s most beautiful spots for polo—where the Trojans will play on Saturday night.

February 24, 2019; UC Irvine, Irvine, CA, USA; Collegiate Women's Water Polo: Barbara Kalbus Invitational: USC Trojans vs Stanford Cardinals; USC Trojans Goalkeeper Amanda Longan Photo credit: Catharyn Hayne

USC’s Amanda Longan is the reason the Trojans will stay perfect for another week. Photo Courtesy: Catharyn Hayne

The nation’s top-ranked team and interim Head Coach Casey Moon—thrust into the hot spot on the USC depth chart by the unexpected firing of Jovan Vavic Wednesday afternoon—have the unenviable task of facing the Rainbow Wahine in their home pool, where they are sure to be circling like hungry sharks.

It’s tempting to pick against the Trojans (19-0), and a monumental upset (Hawai’i hasn’t beaten USC since 2006, losing 22-straight) tugs at the heartstrings. But the talent on Moon’s roster is second to none, and it’s almost certain his players will be fired up in support of their former coach. Vavic was unceremoniously dumped by an institution where he produced 16 championships (10 men’s and 6 women’s—including a sweep in 2018) over a masterful quarter-century of service. The Trojans will likely extend their 35-match win streak to yet another weekend.

The primary beneficiary of Vavic’s demise will be #2 Stanford (12-1; 2-0 Mountain Pacific Sports Federation), who have sustained tough losses in the past three meetings with the Trojans, including last year’s national championship match, won 5-4 by USC. The Cardinal will spend this weekend training, and then have matches next Saturday and Monday against Harvard and UC Irvine. There’s little chance that Cardinal Head Coach John Tanner will let his players look ahead to March 30th, when they will have a shot at their main tormenters the past two seasons. That match—to be televised on the Pac-12 Networks—is sure to be closely watched; not only because Coach Moon will be facing his first major test as head Trojan, but because Tanner is as savvy a coach as any in the country.

February 3, 2019; Avery Aquatic Center, Palo Alto, CA, USA; Collegiate Women's Water Polo: California Golden Bears vs Stanford Cardinals; Stanford Cardinal Driver Makenzie Fischer Photo credit: Catharyn Hayne

Not likely that Stanford’s Mackenzie Fischer is feeling sorry for USC. Photo Courtesy: Catharyn Hayne

Of other potential threats to USC’s winning ways, perhaps arch-rival #3 UCLA (17-3; 1-0 MPSF) looms largest. The intensity of this rivalry across all sports is second to none, and Bruin Head Coach Adam Wright is sure to remember that it was Vavic’s Trojans who wrecked his men’s team’s NCAA record-setting (for polo) win streak, ending it at 57 in November 2016. Last month, USC won the season’s first meeting between the teams, but there’s no way that seven goals will separate these two programs when they meet on April 20th The Bruins have some heavy lifting to do before then, including MPSF matches this weekend in Tempe, AZ against Indiana and host Arizona State.

Another MPSF opportunist is #4 Cal (11-3; 0-1 MPSF), but Head Coach Coralie Simmons’ squad has to prove it can consistently beat it’s Pac-12 rivals. A 9-7 loss two weeks ago to the Bruins snapped the Golden Bears brief three-game winning streak against UCLA. Cal must demonstrate it can win a big game against the Bruins if they’re to have any shot of supplanting the Trojans in the national championship game. Michigan is visiting Berkeley on Sunday; Simmons’ squad cannot afford a let-down against a non-MPSF opponent.

As mentioned, #5 Hawai’i (12-3, 1-0 Big West) has its work cut out for them this weekend; the bigger challenge comes when Big West play picks up again next Saturday against CSUN. With 41 goals this season and 207 for her career, senior Irene Gonzalez continues to rack up program records; she’s certain to be near the top of the Rainbow Wahine’s all-time scoring lists at season’s end. The question remains; can she and her team get back to NCAAs for the first time since 2016?

The #6 Wolverines (12-7) are in California again; every season Head Coach Marcelo Leonardi and his players likely compile enough frequent flyer miles for a free trip around the globe. But, with no serious rivals in the East, Michigan must go to where the best play. One wonders if—or perhaps when—Big Blue will follow it’s Big Ten rival Indiana to the MPSF in the “If you can’t beat them, join them” approach to the best in women’s water polo. Until that happens, the traveling Wolverines will bank as many matches with top Western opponents until they must defend their CWPA title.

January 26, 2019; Spieker Aquatics Center, Berkeley, CA, USA; Womens Water Polo:Cal Cup : California Golden Bears vs Fresno State Bulldogs; Photo credit: Catharyn Hayne

Cal’s Coralie Simmons has her players’ backs—a difference-maker in a post-Vavic MPSF? Photo Courtesy: Catharyn Hayne

Tomorrow, #7 Pacific (7-6) will play Michigan for the fourth time this season; that amounts to almost 1/3 of the Tigers’ season thus far. A win gives Head Coach James Graham’s squad a split and allows—after a match against UCLA next Friday—to start preparing for Golden Coast Conference opponents. Focusing on matches at hand may be a comfort to the cerebral Tigers’ coach; he’s on a list of possible Vavic replacements that includes Todd Clapper, Jack Kocur, Dan Leyson and Alex Rodriguez. Hard to believe he’d forsake the comforts of Stockton for the pressure-cooker of Los Angeles, but Graham wants to win as much as anyone, and there’s no question that USC is a winning environment.

Hosting games this weekend in Arizona are the #8 Sun Devils (9-7; 0-1 MPSF), who are probably not in a position to benefit from the turmoil in Troy—but must find a way to insert themselves back into the MPSF picture or they will be odd-man out come NCAA tournament time. Wins this afternoon against conference rivals Indiana and against UCLA tomorrow would be a big step in the right direction; problem is they haven’t beaten the Bruins since 2013—the Sun Devils only victory in 23 attempts.

#9 UC Santa Barbara (16-5; 1-0 Big West) has been jockeying with its Big West rivals, UC Irvine, all season—and a 6-5 victory in conference play has pushed the Gauchos up over the Anteaters, for the moment. Head Coach Serela Kay now has two weeks—and three non-conference contests—to prepare her team for its next conference contest, a road match on March 30th versus UC Davis. Can the Gauchos extend one of the best starts in program history? And, Can freshman sensation Amanda Legaspi (33 goals; behind Sarah Snyder’s 47) keep up her torrid start?

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What’s noteworthy about the recent history of #10 UC Irvine (12-7; 0-1 Big West) is that—without Mary Brooks, Big West Player of the Year for 2016 and 2017—the Anteaters and Dan Klatt, their intrepid coach, found a way to upset Hawai’i for the 2018 Big West title. So, no one should go to sleep on UCI, especially now that Brooks is back and scoring at her usual clip (33 goals in 2019; 190 for her career). An April 5th match with the Rainbow Wahine—slated for Anteater Aquatics Center—may reveal everything anyone might ask about Brooks’ return, and UCI’s hopes for a third-straight Big West title.

5 comments

  1. avatar
    Casey Barrett

    I went to USC and I know the writer of this piece… Maybe it’s well-intentioned to keep beating the drum of water polo, but I am floored. Can we acknowledge what Jovan is being accused of – which is corrupting the very heart of college sport and putting his program at mortal risk? Let’s keep that first & foremost before waxing about ‘hungry sharks’ and beautiful polo venues and ‘heartstrings’… Please. 16 titles and a “masterly quarter century of service” does not erase these allegations. Take a look at the headlines: “FBI affidavits”, “systematic fraud” – you think a beautiful tradition of excellence sweeps that away? No way.

    • avatar
      Michael Randazzo

      Casey:

      It took me a moment to place your name; I realize we’ve met twice. Like any public forum, you are welcome to express you opinion. Last I checked – and you said so yourself – the case against Jovan Vavic consists of allegations, at this time.

      For the athletes dedicated to their sport, the season continues; they’ve spent lifetimes for their opportunities, and I choose to celebrate them.

      Your correspondent

  2. avatar
    Anonymous

    Casey, you should read the other article, “Scandal Engulfs USC: Jovan Vavic, Head Men’s & Women’s Polo Coach Arrested Over Fake Admissions Scheme,” it “acknowledges what Jovan is being accused of,” and doesn’t justify his actions. This article seems more like a summary of what’s up with the top teams in the CWPA, so your comment seems unfairly aggressive.

  3. avatar
    Greg Hargrave

    “Fired unceremoniously”, really! How much ceremony do you think USC should’ve had in firing coach accused of excepting $250,000 in bribes to cheat the system. As a USC Alum i was happy they fired him quickly

    • avatar
      Michael Randazzo

      Greg:

      I get it! All the USC folks will now come out of the woodwork and say how much they hated the guy who delivered 16 NCAA titles. I suppose NO ONE in Troy was happy when he won (!). BTW, where was this outrage when Pete Carroll was alleged to have cheated with his players – and USC vacated the 2004 National Championship?!

      I appear to be in a position of defending Vavic; that’s not my point. I’ve reported that his firing was earth-shattering – no matter what he’s accused of. In six hours he went from the winningest coach in NCAA WP history to unemployed.

      Your Correspondent

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