During an Oct. 16 game at McDonald’s Swim Stadium last season, California attacker Ivan Rackov, then a junior, did little to endear himself to a sportsmanlike USC men’s water polo team.Tough act to stop · USC faces No. 2 California on Saturday in Berkeley, Calif., and must contend with senior attack Ivan Rackov — the reigning winner of the Peter J. Cutino Award — given annually to the nation’s top collegiate water polo player. – Photo courtesy of The Daily Californian Upon scoring his third goal of the match on a crafty long-distance shot in the second quarter, helping the Golden Bears jump out to an 8-2 halftime lead, Rackov pointed at USC goalie Joel Dennerley, waving three fingers in the air to signify his hat-trick clinching goal.Though California eventually won 12-9, Rackov’s boastful jab surprised many, considering just a month earlier USC had topped Rackov and company in the semifinals of the NorCal tournament en route to winning the tournament title.“Personally, do I care for some of his antics,” senior driver Peter Kurzeka asked rhetorically. “You know — to each his own. He was awarded the best water polo player in the country, so he’s free to do what he wants, and we’re not here to judge that.”USC faces Rackov and No. 2 Cal on Saturday at the Spieker Aquatics Complex in Berkeley, Calif., looking to notch its third win in Mountain Pacific Sports Federation play.Despite Rackov’s decorated résumé, USC isn’t flinching.“We’re going to worry about our own game,” Kurzeka said.Though USC prides itself on a diverse scoring attack — 10 different Trojans scored in the team’s 13-3 rout of No. 12 Loyola Marymount last Saturday, there is no confusion as to whom Cal will feature as its main trigger man.Rackov, winner of the Peter J. Cutino Award as the top male collegiate water polo player in 2010, unquestionably remains the Golden Bears’ most prolific player, according to Dennerley.“He’s probably the most dominating player out there right now,” Dennerley said. “He led the NCAA in scoring by a lot last season. He’s a guy who’s dangerous wherever he is in the pool, and is Cal’s biggest weapon.”The numbers, at least, confirm Dennerley’s assessment.Last season Rackov’s tallied 79 goals — an average of 2.8 goals per contest. By comparison, sophomore driver Nikola Vavic, USC’s leading goal scorer in 2010, finished with 49 goals.Rackov’s well-rounded skill set makes him nearly impossible to defend.“He has a really strong water polo IQ, where he just sees the game really well,” Kurzeka said. “He’s fast, and he has a great shot.”This season Rackov appears as if he might even shatter last season’s mark, as he has already registered 49 goals through the Golden Bears’ first 16 games — a pace that would surpass last season’s goal mark, especially if Cal is able to play deep into the postseason.Though USC and Cal’s offensive numbers are strikingly similar these last two seasons, with both teams consistently averaging around the 13 goals per game mark, the way these two programs strategize their attacks is a study in contrast.USC features seven different players who have scored at least 10 goals this season, and its leading goal scorer, Kurzeka, has only accounted for 14 percent (21 of 149) of the team’s total scoring. By contrast, Rackov has accounted for 25 percent (49 of 196) of Cal’s goals thus far. As a result, the Golden Bears’ offense often ebbs and flows depending on his play.Though Rackov’s talent remains undeniable, it is his demonstrative demeanor that has irked some of the veteran Trojans in the past.“He’s a good water polo player,” Kurzeka said. “Some may not like him, but everyone always hates the best player. He scores a lot of goals, and he always has the ball in his hand like the best player usually does.”For all his offensive prowess, Rackov would likely exchange some of his goal scoring these last few seasons for the three NCAA championship titles his USC senior counterparts possess.After all, the Trojans got the best of Rackov and the Golden Bears last season.In the 2010 NCAA title game against USC, Rackov scored the go-ahead goal to make the score 10-9 with 5:02 remaining in the fourth quarter.The Trojans, however, quickly notched the equalizer and forced overtime where they won 12-10, thus earning the “three-peat.”
Will the real Trojans please stand up?We’re three weeks into the 2017 season, and we know more or less as much about this USC team as we did heading into opening day. The Trojans kicked off their campaign with an unconvincing win over Western Michigan, rebounded with a statement victory against Stanford but then required two overtime periods to down a double-digit underdog Texas team.Redshirt sophomore quarterback Sam Darnold has thrown for more than 1,000 yards and seven touchdowns so far this season, but he has also been picked off six times — already two-thirds of his 2016 total. The two-headed rushing attack of junior Ronald Jones II and freshman Steven Carr, which shined against the Broncos and the Cardinal, was held to less than three yards per carry against the Longhorns. USC’s defense, though formidable, has appeared prone to the occasional big play, which nearly crushed the team last weekend when Texas marched down the field and took the lead with 45 seconds left to play.The Trojans now hit the road for their first game away from the Coliseum this fall. They will face an undefeated Cal team surging with confidence from its Week 3 upset over Ole Miss — and new head coach Justin Wilcox will be eager to exact revenge on his former team (he was USC’s defensive coordinator under former head coach Steve Sarkisian). Though the Bears endured a brutal 2016 campaign, they picked up an opening-week win at North Carolina in addition to beating Ole Miss, and they could very well give the Trojans their biggest test of the year so far come Saturday.But another battle of attrition could spell trouble for this banged-up USC squad, which can ill-afford more injuries — let alone a loss. A slew of key players have been on the sidelines during practice this week, including Jones, junior linebacker Porter Gustin and three other starters. Of course, the Trojans’ injury issues will only make their task more difficult against the hungry Bears.Fortunately, USC can take heart looking back at last year’s matchup. Even if Wilcox’s presence is a massive boost to the defense, this is largely the same roster that allowed USC to torch them for 629 total yards on offense in 2016; Trojan runners bowled the Bears over for 398 yards while Darnold rang up five scores through the air. Granted, 163 of USC’s receiving yards came from JuJu Smith-Schuster and Darreus Rogers, but junior wideout Deontay Burnett, who has racked up more than 120 yards in four consecutive games dating back to the Rose Bowl, should still keep Cal’s defense very busy.However, can Jones and Carr rebound from their tough night versus Texas? Will a potentially depleted receiving corps get open for Darnold?Can Darnold himself avoid giving the ball away to a Cal defense that ranks third in the FBS in forced turnovers? There is still plenty of confidence in this program, especially after last week’s dramatic win, but the feeling of invincibility that made fans chant “We want ’Bama” last year is fading rapidly. Whether it’s due to unlucky bounces or lack of chemistry, USC hasn’t completely clicked yet this season, and paranoid fans are starting to see upsets looming around every corner.But there still remains a feeling that — when push comes to shove — the Trojans will jump on Darnold’s back and pull through. There was no better example of it than last weekend (save for maybe the Rose Bowl). Darnold, despite his two picks on the game, came out firing with no fear and deadly efficiency with less than a minute on the clock and no timeouts. From the second USC went down, the Trojans’ quarterback was spectacular, showing off his mobility, pocket presence and unmatched improvisational ability.Even with all Darnold’s ability, though, it’s impossible to expect that from him every week. If they keep trying their luck, the Trojans will eventually wind up on the losing end of one of these nail-biters, especially away from home. USC hasn’t seen a deficit it couldn’t overcome in a full calendar year. You wouldn’t expect that streak to come to an end against Cal, who the Trojans haven’t lost to since 2003, but you can be sure the Bears smell blood after USC’s close call against Texas. Depending on which version of the Trojans shows up at Memorial Stadium, we could be in for another heart-stopper.This team has been more roller coaster than hype train so far this season, but I’m still all in. With all the playmaking talent USC has on either side of the ball, there’s no question there is championship quality on this roster — and right now, there doesn’t seem to be a more automatic player in football than Darnold in clutch situations. It wasn’t necessarily pretty, but the Trojans took care of the Longhorns last week. Now it’s time for the bear hunt.Ollie Jung is a senior studying print and digital journalism. He is also a sports editor for the Daily Trojan. His column, Jung Money, runs Fridays.
Comments Drake Porter’s stickwork was off. He angled himself poorly in net. His clearing ability, the trait Syracuse head coach John Desko would later deem a differentiator for goalies, was a bit behind. Yet, Edge Lacrosse, a club team program in Toronto which cut Porter seven summers ago, formulated a plan to keep him.Alan Tsang, Edge’s program director, offered Porter a training spot on the roster. He viewed Porter as a “project” who couldn’t start in his first season. Tsang recognized Porter’s talent, so, instead, Porter led Edge’s secondary squad. In his third campaign, Porter ascended to the starting role. Potential equated to expectation, and the lesson in patience worked. In 2019, Syracuse is hoping it works again.This past fall, after sitting for two years, Porter’s status as starting goalie was “temporary,” Desko said. Months of first-team reps did nothing to separate the junior from the pack. On Jan. 9, Desko wouldn’t name a clear front-runner. If Porter’s quick hands and ball-stopping ability carried him to SU, his intensity did, too. In high school, he talked to himself during games, asking “What are you doing?” to no apparent answer. He’d yell “Let’s go!” in big moments and scream at his teammates in others. To become the third starting goalie in three years for the No. 10 Orange, he needed to find the balance between both. Desko’s comments didn’t change the plan. The same one set in motion when Porter was 4 years old. The same one that’s supposed to end with Porter standing in the net for SU’s first faceoff.“I don’t want to build it up too much in my head,” Porter said. “I’m doing what I do. I love playing lacrosse every day. The difference is, I get to play on Saturdays now.”AdvertisementThis is placeholder text,Porter started the process at age four when he followed his brother, Chris, to practices. At Markham Thunder Peanut Lacrosse, based out of a Toronto suburb, he indoctrinated himself while surprising his dad, Dave, who had picked up a stick just twice before his sons started playing. Friday nights were soon spent at Toronto Rock’s, a National Lacrosse League team, home games.While in a United States hotel for Chris’ travel hockey team, Porter flicked on ESPNU and saw a regular season Syracuse matchup. Porter was glued. He searched YouTube videos of then-SU goalkeeper John Galloway — the last Syracuse goalkeeper to win a national title — and mimicked his play.Porter and Chris exchanged tips through text as Porter fed into his new passion, eventually identifying Edge Lacrosse as the next step in his development. It didn’t matter that Edge held practices an hour away.“You’re either gonna like having balls shot at your head or not,” Dave said. “Strangely, (Porter) seemed to really like it. He took it from there.”While growing up, Porter played a variety of sports including hockey and football. His emotions flowed through each team and practice. Porter said he carried the same mindset through every game: The next one will be the best. At times, it fueled him to play better, but for some, his intensity hindered progress.Individual sports hurt the most, and the isolation of a golf tee box brought the same pressure as a goalie net. Porter said he’d smack the pipes or his own head in response to letting in goals. It seemed, Dave said, that Porter usually snapped out of it 24 hours following the contest. Though, it eventually returned when Porter played on “weaker teams,” Dave said — or ones that led to Porter facing more doorstep shots.Coaches wanted Porter to channel his competitiveness. It appealed to some, like Tsang, who identified it in the Edge tryouts. Coaches wanted Porter to recognize “tomorrow was another day.” But tomorrow led to the next game. Losing the provincial championship in his junior year of high school, after “riding an emotional high,” triggered a phone call with his brother.“There was a turning point where I realized we were losing the game and that sort of just,” Porter said recently before pausing, “it really dragged me down.”,Porter focused on his breathing to calm down. In lieu of screaming at his defense for missed assignments, he emphasized proactive communication. He developed relationships with the instructors that helped him the most, like Greg Reid, the varsity coach at St. Andrews (Ontario) College. Reid even cut Porter from a recreation-league team years earlier when Porter was “overconfident” and slacked through tryouts. But Reid specifically demanded personal growth as Porter’s recruiting profile grew, with no exceptions. Porter soon drew offers from elite high school programs in the U.S. and Canada.He wanted to stay in Canada, but Dave was told that D-I colleges preferred U.S. goalies. Porter eventually transferred to IMG Academy (Florida) for his senior year.Through Edge Lacrosse, Major League Lacrosse veteran Dillon Ward connected with Porter for summer sessions and became Porter’s first goalie mentor. He taught Porter what YouTube videos couldn’t, starting with the importance of angles. Before Porter walked onto Syracuse’s campus for his freshman year, he traveled to Orangeville, Ontario, Ward’s hometown, and studied goalie techniques on the field that Ward grew up playing on near Tony Rose Memorial Sports Centre.Porter entered the fall as one of four goalies on the SU roster, yet he didn’t redshirt because he competed to be then-starter Evan Molloy’s backup. He appeared in one game his freshman season — tallying two saves against Cornell on April 11, 2017 — and impressed another backup, leading eventual-starter Dom Madonna to turn to a teammate and say, “Wow, this kid really does step it up in big games.”Madonna had noticed Porter’s talent in practice, when the latter was on scout teams. He also realized Porter’s persistent fire that sparked in fall ball and caused Porter to text Ward for advice. But Madonna reached out to Porter. He said he went through similar struggles in high school. The two confided in between drills, sometimes offering a pat on the shoulder after a string of tough shots. Throughout last season, with Porter listed as the backup, Madonna emphasized communication with the backline.Porter’s focus turned to 2019 as the prior season ended and Madonna graduated. After the fall, Desko called Porter into his office. Porter still wasn’t told he’d be the starter. He wouldn’t hear that until six days before SU’s season-opener against Colgate. But, Desko said, Porter had done enough to keep his post atop the Orange’s depth chart. As he walked outside, Porter called his brother and celebrated before quickly remembering the unfulfilled goal. For just a moment, Porter saw the bigger picture. And the plan seemed to be working. Cover photo by TJ Shaw | Staff Photographer Published on February 8, 2019 at 9:59 am Contact Nick: firstname.lastname@example.org | @nick_a_alvarez,Cancel replyYou must be logged in to post a comment.