first_imgDuring 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.”last_img