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No. 4 USC Men's Water Polo Shoves Off For Stanford Round Robin

Feb 17, 2021


#4 USC vs. #1 California
Saturday, Feb. 20 | 1 p.m. 
Series RecordUSC leads 66-61-2 (L2)
Last MeetingCAL 11, USC 8 (Feb. 6, 2021)

#4 USC at #3 Stanford
Saturday, Feb. 20 | 6:30 p.m. 
Series RecordUSC leads 70-63 (L2)
Last Meeting: STAN 14, USC 8 (Feb. 6, 2021)

#4 USC vs. #2 UCLA
Sunday, Feb. 21 | 3:30 p.m. 
Series RecordUSC leads 73-60-1 (L2)
Last Meeting: UCLA 7, USC 5 (Feb. 7, 2021)

No. 4 USC heads north this week for another set of round robin action against MPSF foes. Hosting this weekend's event is Stanford, with Avery Aquatic Center the site for action running Feb. 20-21. The Trojans (3-5, 2-5 MPSF) first line up against No. 1 California (5-2) at 1 p.m. on Saturday (Feb. 20). That night. USC squares off against No. 3 Stanford (1-2) at 6:30 p.m. And on Sunday (Feb. 21), USC has a 3:30 p.m. clash with No. 2 UCLA (5-3, 4-3) on tap.

USC started this 2020-21 season ranked No. 1 in the national preseason poll, tied at that top spot with Stanford. After the first weekend of competition, USC was in a three-way tie at No. 2 with Cal and UCLA. On Feb. 10, USC moved to No. 4 in the nation, and the Trojans remain there as of the latest rankings on Feb. 17.

USC poured out 11 goals in two periods to leave No. 5 Pepperdine in its wake en route to a 13-7 win at Uytengsu Aquatics Center. Jacob Mercep unfurled five goals, and Vaios Vlahotasios hauled in 14 saves during USC's well-balanced winning effort. The nonconference win improves USC to 3-5 overall. Before the game, USC celebrated its two graduating seniors — Jere Ashby and Luke Wyatt — in a pregame Senior Day ceremony. USC would misfire early on while Pepperdine converted a 6-on-5 and a 5-meter penalty shot to take a 2-0 lead in the first before the Trojans broke their silence on a blast from Marcus Longton in the final minute. Trailing 2-1, USC rattled off three straight goals in the second, and the Trojans never looked back. Jake Ehrhardt had back-to-back goals in the surge, and Max Miller had a hugely heroic effort at 2-meters to get USC on top to stay. Pepperdine stopped the run with a goal next, but USC wrapped two Jacob Mercep strikes around Longton's second slingshot of the day, and the Trojans were up comfortably 7-3 at halftime. Duly warmed up, Mercep rattled the back of the cage three more times in the third while only a single Pepperdine 5-meter penalty shot would account for the Waves' scoring in the frame. With his five-goal outburst, Mercep cracked USC's top-20 scoring charts, now ranked No. 19 all-time with 137 career goals as a Trojan. Longton and Wyatt Barker also tallied for the Trojans in the third, while Vlahotasios continued to collect impressive saves. He'd finish up with 14 — one off his career high — in his first full game of work this season. Before the final buzzer sounded on USC's resounding victory, Carson Kranz joined the scoring party with a bar-in blast, and USC was well on its way it a final 13-7 win over the visiting Waves.

After two weekends of work against MPSF foes, Jacob Mercep leads USC's scoring charge with 25 goals to date. He has scored in all eight games with seven multi-goal outings as he's climbed the USC career charts to currently rank No. 19 all-time with 137 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.  Senior goalie Vaios Vlahotasios capped up for his first full game in the cage last week and made 14 saves. All told, USC's goalkeeping corps is averaging 13.3 saves per game. As a team, USC is averaging 10.3 goals per game offensively and has allowed 10.7 goals-against per game defensively.

After a powerful showing in a nonconference win over visiting No. 5 Pepperdine, two members of the USC men's water polo team earned honors from the MPSF on Feb. 15. Jacob Mercep landed MPSF Player of the Week acclaim, while freshman Max Miller received his first pick as MPSF Newcomer of the Week. Jacob Mercep scored five goals in under eight minutes to fuel the Trojans' powerful push out of reach of visiting Pepperdine. He'd also hand out two assists and make two steals and draw an ejection for the Trojans in the win. With his five-goal outburst against the Waves, Mercep cracked USC's top-20 scoring charts, now ranked No. 19 all-time with 137 career goals as a Trojan. This is Mercep's fourth MPSF Player of the Week selection and his first this year. Max Miller's heroic turn and score out of two-meters in the second quarter gave USC a two-goal lead and arguably shifted the momentum for the Trojans, who went on a 5-0 scoring run soon after. With more hard work at set, Miller also drew two ejections for the Trojans in the game. This is Miller's first MPSF award, and he's the second USC freshman to be named MPSF Newcomer of the Week this season. It was the second USC sweep of the MPSF's weekly awards this season. 

SWEEPS WEEK            
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.

VETERANS CLUB            
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.

TWO-METER PUNCH            
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. 

CAGE FIGHTERS            
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.

PINTA'S PROGRAM            
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.

LAST SEASON            
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. •