USC Sinks Bears in Overtime to Claim Third Straight National Title

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"Three-peat, three-peat, three-peat," the USC fans yelled as the clock wound down and the buzzer sounded, officially marking the Trojans' third men's water polo championship in a row.

Cal couldn't capitalize on its last possession in regulation to break the 10-10 tie and win at its home pool yesterday. Nor could the team shape up in overtime, missing two power play opportunities and carelessly turning the ball over twice.

USC outlasted the Bears, who didn't score in the final 11 minutes of play, in overtime by scoring two goals to finish out the match, 12-10.

"That's how these games work, they are an inch here and an inch there, and they got the inches," the Bears' Cal head coach Kirk Everist said. "Obviously, we're disappointed, I don't know how much more than that I can say."

Ivan Rackov gave the Bears a 10-9 lead with 5:02 left in the fourth quarter, but fellow junior Luka Saponjic committed a foul that gave tournament MVP Peter Kurzeka a five meter penalty shot with 3:58 left in regulation to tie the game up.

The match was a series of back-and-forths, with neither team ever leading by more than two goals.

The third quarter scoring frenzy had nine scores total, with four by the Bears and five by the Trojans -- an average of more than one goal per minute.

"Cal never gave us a break, anytime it seemed like we were going to pull away and win it, they came back and really pushed us to the limit," USC head coach Jovan Vavic said. "These games always come down to desire, when you have a great desire, you're not tired."

Cal had a few hitches in its Saturday game against LMU as well, trailing in the fourth until Cory Nasoff tied it up at 7-7 with 3:50 left in the match. Senior center Zach White scored the go-ahead goal with 2:41 and goalie Justin Parsons made three crucial saves in the fourth period to keep the Lions at bay.

Additionally, freshman Max Bergeson stepped up big to salvage the game, scoring two goals.

"That really helped us out," Everist said in an interview with "Max came in and really lit a fire under us generating offense and making (LMU goalie) Andy (Stevens) start to honor our shots."

Stevens, the back-up goalie on the national team and a huge fan of the Dikembe Mutombo finger wag, had 12 saves -- including one on a penalty shot by Rackov.

Stevens' stellar play in the cage combined with poor execution on the part of the Bears, who went 3-for-9 on their power plays.

LMU went on to trump St. Francis, 9-7, in the third-place match that was nowhere near as close as the final score would suggest.

The Lions leaped out to a 6-1 lead and coasted the rest of the way.


Byron Atashian covers men's water polo. Contact him at [email protected]

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