No. 4 USC Men Splash Back Down At Uytensgu To Host No. 5 Waves
No. 4 USC has a chance to bounce back this weekend, as the Trojans set up to host a nonconference bout. USC has Pepperdine coming to Uytengsu Aquatics Center for an 11 a.m. meeting on Sunday (Feb. 14). Before the game, USC will honor its two graduating seniors, Jere Ashby and Luke Wyatt, in a Senior Day ceremony.
USC started this 2020-21 season ranked No. 1 in the national preseason poll, tied at that top spot with Stanford. In the latest set of rankings (Jan. 28), After the first weekend of competition, USC was a three-way tie at No. 2 with Cal and UCLA. This week, USC is ranked No. 4 in the nation (as of Feb. 10 rankings).
BY THE NUMBERS
After two weekends of work against MPSF foes, Jacob Mercep leads USC's scoring charge with 20 goals to date. He has scored in all seven games with six multi-goal outings as he's climbed the USC career charts to currently rank No. 22 all-time with 132 goals as a Trojan. Junior goalie Nic Porter, meanwhile, has logged 402 career saves to put himself in reach of the Trojans' all-time top-10. He needs 25 saves to take over the No. 10 spot. Porter is averaging 11.4 saves per game, having topped out with a career-high-tying 20 against Cal on Jan. 24. He's hauled in double-digit saves in four games to date. As a team, USC is averaging 9.6 goals per game offensively and has allowed 11.3 goals-against per game defensively.
After the first work trip of 2021, USC men's water polo picked up a sweep of the MPSF's weekly awards on Jan. 25. Following strong performances in Berkeley over that weekend, USC had Nic Porter standing tall as MPSF Player of the Week and freshman Carson Kranz on the honor roll for the first time as MPSF Newcomer of the Week. Goalie Porter capped up in the cage for all four games in Berkeley and hauled in double-digit saves in each game as USC went 2-2 at the event. He had 14 saves in the win over Cal on Saturday and a career-high-tying 20 saves on Sunday with one 5-meter penalty stop. Against UCLA, Porter had 10 saves in each game against the Bruins with one 5-meter penalty save. It was Porter's second career pick as MPSF Player of the Week. In his first competition for USC, freshman two-meter man Kranz scored in all four games in Berkeley, totaling six goals. He scored twice against Cal each day, and scored once vs. UCLA each day to clock in as USC's second leading scorer over the weekend. It was Kranz's first award as a Trojan.
Captains Jacob Mercep and Luke Wyatt — both lefties — are the veterans of the bunch, while goalies Nic Porter and Vaios Vlahotasios are both in their third seasons as Trojans. U.S. National Teamer and All-American Jake Ehrhardt comes off a significant sophomore season to bolster USC's experienced depth charge for 2021.
With the graduation of two-meter men Sam Slobodien and Matt Maier, USC welcomes the addition of grad transfer Wyatt Barker, a 6-foot-6 center who played at Pacific before coming to USC to pursue a master's degree. He and incoming freshmen Max Miller and Tony Nardelli are also tabbed as new faces in that hole position for the Trojans.
USC's trio of left-handed attackers — All-American Mercep, Wyatt and sophomore Marcus Longton — are balanced on the perimeter by several more sure-handed gunners. Adding further to USC's offensive onslaught, Pintaric also points to the high-powered scoring abilities of Chris Sturtevant, Orestis Apergi, James Kolenda and newcomer Carson Kranz. Kranz and fellow freshmen Tom McGuire and Joshua Waldoch are also tabbed as impact players in their first season as Trojans.
To back up USC's firepower on the offensive end, the Trojans boast a formidable goalkeeping corps. All-American Nic Porter is back for year three, as is Vaios Vlahotasios. That pair shouldered the bulk of the load between the pipes in 2019. This year, USC has three more goalies in line for their first action as Trojans in redshirt freshman Garrett Allen and true freshmen Blake Jackson and Oliver Von Karl.
Marko Pintaric, who has been part of 14 NCAA championships during his 19 years on the USC coaching staff, is in his second year at the helm of the Trojan water polo program. Last season on the men's side, he guided the Trojans to a 15th consecutive NCAA appearance, taking a sudden-death loss in the 2019 NCAA semifinals to eventual champion Stanford. With the women in 2020, Pintaric had USC ranked No. 1 in the nation when the season was brought to an early close due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Pintaric was named head coach of the USC men's and women's water polo teams on August 29, 2019, replacing former head coach Jovan Vavic. An All-American and 1998 NCAA champion as a player at USC, Pintaric served as co-head coach for the USC men for the past three seasons (2016-18), most recently helping the Trojans to the 2018 NCAA Championship. His USC coaching career began as an assistant coach to both the USC men and women in 2001. Pintaric stayed in a dual coaching role until NCAA rules for coaching staff sizes changed in 2015-16, prompting a move to a scouting director role with the women while his assistant coaching role continued with the men for the next four years. Starting in 2021, Pintaric has a full coaching staff at his disposal, with associate head coach Casey Moon and assistant coach Connor Virjee back for more along with the addition of Jeremy Davie as a student assistant coach.
Trojans Hannes Daube, Marko Vavic and Ashworth Molthen are taking this season off to compete overseas in preparation for the U.S. National Team's work toward the Tokyo Olympic Games.
In 2019, under the direction of Marko Pintaric as head coach for the first season, the Trojans made their 15th consecutive journey to the NCAA Tournament. USC went 3-0 in MPSF regular-season action to earn the top seed at that tournament, finishing third and earning an at-large spot in the 2019 NCAA tourney. There, the Trojans beat Bucknell in a play-in game and then faced Stanford in the semis. The Cardinal would pull off a sudden-death victory over the Trojans, leaving USC with a 15-5 overall record. Six Trojans would earn ACWPC All-America honors, led by First Team selection and top scorer Jacob Mercep (51 goals). Hannes Daube and Nic Porter picked up spots on the Second Team. Marin Dasic earned Third Team honors, and Jake Ehrhardt and Sam Slobodien secured Honorable Mention status in 2019. •