Vavic makes winning a habit at USC

first_imgIt’s no secret that USC has had its fair share of legendary coaches pass through Heritage Hall.Football coach John McKay won four national titles from 1962-1974 before leaving for the NFL. Baseball coach Rod Dedeaux captured 11 NCAA championships during his 45-year-tenure with USC.Collected · Men’s and women’s water polo coach Jovan Vavic is known for his keen eye for talent and an undying love for the game. – Dieuwertje Kast | Summer Trojan Men’s track & field coach Dean Cromwell may have even been the most successful of the bunch with 12 national championships to his name during his near 40-year-run with the program.Nowadays, it may be wise to add current men’s and women’s water polo coach Jovan Vavic to that exclusive coaching fraternity as well.That is because over the past year, Vavic has orchestrated two national championship runs with both the men’s and women’s water polo teams, the third time in his career that he has led both squads to the NCAA title in the same academic year.“It’s very special for us to do it in the same year because it takes quite a bit of commitment from the players and the coaches,” Vavic said. “It’s lots of hard work. In the end, it’s very satisfying.”Just last month, the Women of Troy, under the leadership of Vavic, exorcised their postseason demons by defeating top-seeded Stanford to earn the NCAA championship, after falling to crosstown rival UCLA in the finals two years prior. But 2010 was different for Vavic and company.“This year the maturity level was far better than in the past,” Vavic said. “In sports, you have to fight for each other. Earlier, we were playing as individuals. But over time, we became a much better unit and really matured.”On the men’s circuit, Vavic enjoyed similar success, leading the Trojans to their second consecutive national championship last December with a heart-thumping 7-6 win over UCLA in the title game, marking the first time in his career that one of his teams had won back-to-back championships.“In the past, it has always been harder to win in consecutive years because the guys get complacent,” Vavic explained. “They want to get some slack. Because they won, they feel they shouldn’t be working as hard as they did in the past. They kind of feel entitled. I don’t give them that entitlement, and there is a conflict.”But despite coming off an undefeated season in 2008, the Trojans avoided that conflict, following up their strong performance a year earlier with an equally impressive 2009 campaign.“Fortunately this year, our leadership was strong enough with guys like [Shea] Buckner, J.W. [Krumpholz], and [Matt] Sagehorn,” Vavic added. “I think the leadership was the difference.”With three NCAA titles coming since December of 2008, it’s no secret that the Trojans have reached the mountain top of the collegiate water polo world.  But as usual, Vavic was quick to deflect any praise in his teams’ journeys to the summit.“The fact that I have really good assistant coaches makes a huge difference. We have consistently had a coaching staff that hasn’t changed over the last three years,” Vavic said. “That really helps and gives us stability.”But bringing hardware to the confines of McDonald’s Swim Stadium hasn’t been an overnight journey for Vavic and his staff.Since coming to USC as an assistant from UCLA in 1992, the Yugoslavian native has faced a plethora of challenges.For one, Vavic oversaw the women’s water polo team’s move from a club sport in 1994 to Division II in 1995 and to Division I in 1996. Not until 1999 was the program even fully funded and able to issue scholarships to recruits. As a result, winning was rare.“It was very frustrating those first few years,” Vavic said. “We were losing to teams like Berkeley and UCLA by 20 goals. It was really tough.”But with an increase in funding and support from the athletic department, Vavic’s staff quickly brought the program up to par, winning a national championship in 1999.“It’s like starting from scratch,” Vavic said. “You’re a poor guy with no money and you start working and make your first 50 bucks. Then, you go on and make a million. That’s what it feels like. I feel like a million-dollar man now because our program has developed.“It wasn’t easy.”Such a competitive spirit has proven vital in the success Vavic has enjoyed during his stint with the Trojans.“You know going into USC that he has a reputation of being a hard-nosed, no-nonsense kind of guy, and he definitely lives up to that reputation,” outgoing senior goalie Tumua Anae said.But the journey toward the top on the men’s side of things wasn’t a smooth ride either.  Joining a program that had never won a national championship since its inception in 1922, Vavic was instrumental in bringing USC its first national championship in 1998 as a men’s co-head coach along with John Williams. Since then, Vavic and the Trojans have gone on to win four more titles, bringing his career total to eight, which includes three with the women.For those who know Vavic, however, his success is not a big surprise.“You can see how passionate about water polo he is and how competitive he is,” Anae said. “He hates to lose and you can see that in the way he approaches every second of practice.  He’s all business on the pool deck.”That type of attitude has continued to earn the respect of many of his former players.“I have been very fortunate to play for a coach with an enormous amount of knowledge and experience,” Anae said. “He has a great amount of resources and I was lucky enough to enjoy those resources for four years.”But despite the success, complacency doesn’t figure to settle in anytime soon.“All my goals for the future are connected to continuing what we’ve been doing so far at USC,” Vavic said. “That’s really it. The only thing I’m really thinking about is winning more championships.”last_img

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