Despite the many years of success, the numerous NCAA national championships, the vast number of Mountain Pacific Sports Federation titles and the countless weeks of No. 1 rankings, one might be hard-pressed to find a time in the USC men’s water polo team’s decorated history when they showed as much experience as they did in the 2009 season.Top performer · Senior two-meter Shea Buckner contributed big defensive plays down the stretch and made the All-Tournament team. – Katelynn Whitaker | Daily Trojan So as time ran out in the final round of the NCAA tournament and the Trojans were once again crowned National Champions, it seemed fitting that the key to their success were the very players who had been there the longest: the senior class.As has been the norm for the Trojans this season, the group of 10 seniors — most of whom had been together since their freshman year — propelled both the offensive and defensive attack, leading USC to a 7-6 win over their cross-town rival and providing the perfect ending to a near-perfect four year stretch at USC.Setting the BarFor the seniors, their journey began in the fall of 2006.Fresh off a national championship run in 2005, the Trojans’ bid to defend their title was snatched from their hands in the final seconds of the NCAA tournament final by California , leaving the team unsatisfied and hungry for another chance.The 2007 season provided the opportunity for redemption: USC had once again bull-rushed through its regular season schedule, entering the NCAA tournament with an 18-2 record and a No. 1 ranking. But after an opening-round win against LMU, the Trojans once again were stymied by Cal’s attack, losing 8-6 and falling victim to the Golden Bears for the second year in a row.Despite the heartbreaking losses of the previous two years, 2008 marked a pinnacle year for the men’s water polo team. Led by a large core of experienced juniors and seniors, the Trojans breezed through all the competition they faced in both regular season and tournament play, finishing with a 29-0 record and a resounding 7-5 win over host Stanford. This was the first true taste of victory for the now-senior class, who had come so close in the previous years’ title matches only to be denied.“We were putting everything on the line,” said senior Shea Buckner after the 2008 championship game. “All of our friends, our old teammates, all of our best friends leading the cheers — it was awesome, a great experience.”One Last ChanceDespite finally securing a championship, the seniors still had one opportunity left to repeat. With many of the same pieces in place from the season prior, the Trojans were able to once again lead the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation with a 22-1 regular season record, entering postseason play with the No. 1 ranking.Despite a rare loss to UCLA and a third place finish in the MPSF tournament, the Trojans still entered the NCAA tournament with the first seed and disposed of host Princeton in the opening round 13-3.Headed into the championship game, the Trojans were faced with several opportunities in addition to the chance to win back-to-back titles. Not only could they win the season series against rival UCLA, but they could win a national championship for the first time in school history against a team other than Stanford.With the experience and cohesion of the team at an all-time high, the Trojans wasted no opportunities, holding off a strong UCLA attack to secure their fifth national championship.Senior two-meter Jordan Thompson — who captured the NCAA tournament MVP — and sophomore driver Peter Kurzeka led the Trojans with two goals each; senior two-meters J.W. Krumpholz and Buckner and senior driver Matt Sagehorn each added a score as well.The Trojans were first to get on the board, as Kurzeka was able to find the net during a counterattack to put USC up in the opening minutes. A Thompson penalty shot notched the second goal for the Trojans, and then Krumpholz — who has scored in four straight NCAA tournament final matches — blasted in a shot from the post to give USC a 3-0 advantage.After UCLA was able to narrow the score to 4-3 in the second, the vaunted Trojan defense — which has been ranked first in the nation for the last five years — came alive, coming up with several key blocks to create counterattacks for USC. Once again, it was Thompson and Kurzeka driving the Trojans’ scoring, as the senior found pay dirt on a well-contested hook shot and the sophomore was able to skip in a shot from the left side to put USC up by three again.But UCLA continued to fight, and goals from juniors Jacob Murphy and Ben Hohl in the final minutes of the third brought the Bruins to within one score going into the fourth period.Like so many previous games this season, it was USC’s finishing ability in the fourth period that allowed the team to prevail. Sagehorn blasted a huge goal to put the Trojans up 7-5 with four minutes left, and despite another Hohl score for the Bruins, the defense was able to stamp out the UCLA attack in the final two minutes to secure the title.“We were focused on our defense throughout the entire game, and we did a great job stopping UCLA’s extra man,” said coach Jovan Vavic, who has been a part of all five Trojan national titles. “We shut down their best outside shooter and everybody contributed.”Part of the reason for their success, according to Thompson, can be attributed to the experience of the team and the players’ familiarity with playing in the championship round.“I’ve never felt that calm before a game, and the guys were saying that they all felt the same way,” Thompson said. “We knew what we were doing and we went in being confident, and that really helped us.”Vavic was equally pleased with the end of the season.“It was a wonderful ending to the best generation we’ve ever had,” Vavic said. “It is really fitting for these boys to end up on top, to win their last collegiate game, and to beat UCLA. It’s one of those dream-come-true endings, and I am extremely proud of them and I am really going to miss them.”
No crowd? No problem for @sammyguevara 😂 #aewdynamiteA post shared by AEW on TNT (@aewontnt) on Mar 18, 2020 at 6:33pm PDTThe show delivered. The production, the wrestling, all of it, top to bottom. Even on a night where the show was forced to broadcast from an empty arena, two of its latest signees debuted — Brodie Lee and Matt Hardy, formerly of the other company — and had an immediate impact on the programming, now and in the future. While we’re all left to wonder “What if?” either guy made their first AEW appearance in a crowded arena as opposed to an empty one, both had their opportunity to shine. Hardy brought in Vanguard One of “Broken Universe” fame, while Lee’s promo showed he has more to offer the promotion than his former employer allowed.For the uninitiated — the ones that are going to go on Facebook and post “SINCE WHEN IS WRESTLING A SPORT?” and “I THOUT DIS WAS THE SPORTING NEWS” — they might not understand all this (or bother to read before commenting).GRADES: Revisiting Hulk Hogan, The Rock’s match for the ages at WrestleMania 18Wrestling is storytelling. When it’s right, it imitates life, much like art — and much like every other TV show folks watch, it’s scripted and mirrors real-life events. But the catch is, you screw up in front of a live, studio audience, they’ll notice. They won’t forget. And with eyes on the product at home, not even given the opportunity to perform in front of a sold-out arena, that balancing act is a little more dangerous. Now, you know you might not have everyone’s attention for two hours, while paying customers might be a few Nattie Lights deep enough to stay the whole show.Even in an empty arena, AEW offered a sense of normalcy for two hours. They put on a show that said “screw this” and offered an escape for a small, primetime window, doing something nearly impossible in a world stricken by coronavirus. Mick Foley jumped off a 20-foot cage and survived. Ric Flair was in a plane crash and lived. Mae Young gave birth to a hand.But what All Elite Wrestling did on Wednesday night was somewhat more astounding than those feats. View this post on Instagram While there was some uncertainty in the show’s broadcast — numerous references were made to “our next ‘Dynamite'” and not “next week on ‘Dynamite'” — as to when they’ll next be on the air, the promotion shouldn’t have anything to worry about if it chooses to hold empty arena shows. Ticket sales will suffer, the company will take a financial hit — as all of these companies will — but they showed there’s a path that can be taken in an unsure sports world.For two hours, on one night, everything was right in the world again.Except for MJF. That guy’s still a jerk. With the coronavirus pandemic sweeping the nation, sports fans are scrambling for some sense of normalcy. In a typical year, this would be the time that baseball fans are getting ready for Opening Day, and NHL and NBA fans eagerly await the end of the season to get their playoff fix. But 2020 is anything but a normal year — and AEW is anything but a normal promotion.On Wednesday night’s “Dynamite” the rookie promotion ran one of its better shows in recent months. And they did this with no fans in attendance, in a sport where a crowd can make or break an event, and a lack of a crowd can be a death sentence. MORE: List of athletes, sports figures who tested positive for coronavirusIn wrestling, as we’ve seen time and time again through the decades, the show must go on. Lather yourself in baby oil and get limber, ’cause this train ain’t stopping. Cody Rhodes, one of the company’s figureheads and stars, set the tone early, delivering an epic promo that started the momentum that carried through the show.Incredible stuff from @CodyRhodes 👏 #AEWDynamite pic.twitter.com/6Vl5Cp1gnR— All Elite Wrestling on TNT (@AEWonTNT) March 19, 2020″I have never thought of my world as small before,” Rhodes opened, somberly. “But recent events have really put into perspective how small we all are. It has also clarified for me, how big and how important the service we provide is.”And the irony of what I’m about to ask is not lost on me, because I am about to ask three of the best athletes in the world to discard their petty differences, to put aside those squabbles and to stand together. The irony, it being March 18, 2020, and us as human beings need to stand together. And for many of us, that will mean standing at a distance.”The camera panned over, revealing empty seats, with a single spotlight concentrated on Rhodes, as his words echoed through an empty arena.No one there to react. No one there to cheer or boo. Just one guy with a microphone, doing his job, conveying a message to ears at home, likely wondering if those ears are listening or paying attention.MORE: Remembering the time ‘Stone Cold’ Steve Austin whupped Booker T in a supermarketIt was harrowing. It was chill-inducing. It was captivating. But more than all that, it was professional wrestling at its finest — blurring the lines between the reality of the scary, dumb, frightening world that we’re currently in and the fictionalized galaxy of dudes and dames in stretchy pants slapping each other in the chest. For a fledgling company that has been a bit less than perfect, Rhodes’ promo was as close to perfection as it’s got. It weaved in and out of kayfabe while keeping it real; Rhodes went on to extoll the virtue and values of science while not living in a world of fear, then suddenly diving back into the hype for his forthcoming matches. It was a masterclass in how to mangle a person’s reactions, keeping them trained on you, while delivering several messages at once.The show went on to have excellent matches across the board, with AEW wrestlers sitting ringside offering hilarious commentary during, between and after matches. They showcased their personalities. They still had full entrances and pyro. J.R., Taz and Excalibur still offered commentary.Later in the show, Sammy Guevara kept custom and belted out Inner Circle stablemate Chris Jericho’s theme song on the microphone — the singing of Jericho’s theme has become something of a tradition in the promotion.