No. 4 Seed USC Men Head Across Town For MPSF Tourney
MPSF CHAMPIONSHIP TOURNAMENT (Spieker Aquatics Center)
LIVE STREAMS (Subscription required): mpsports.org/watch
Friday, March 5
9 a.m. — Penn State Behrend vs. Austin College (5/6 seed game)
1 p.m. — Game 1:  Stanford vs.  Austin/Penn St. Behrend
4 p.m. — Game 2:  USC vs.  Austin/Penn St. Behrend
Saturday, March 6
11 a.m. — Semifinal 1:  California vs. Game 2 winner
2 p.m. — Semifinal 2:  UCLA vs. Game 1 winner
Sunday, March 7
9 a.m. — 5th Place Game
11:30 a.m. — 3rd Place Game
2 p.m. — Championship
No. 4 USC takes aim at a 12th MPSF Tournament title this week in Westwood, heading across town for competition at the 2021 MPSF Championship Tournament, running March 5-7 at Spieker Aquatics Center The Trojans (4-7) have the No. 4 seed this year, opening up at 4 p.m. on Friday (March 5) with a quarterfinal contest against the loser of that morning's Austin College- Penn State Behrend game to determine the No. 5 and 6 seeds. A quarterfinal victory on Friday would push USC along to an 11 a.m. semifinal bout on Saturday (March 6) against top-seeded Cal. On Sunday (March 7), the MPSF championship game is set for 2 p.m., preceded by an 11:30 a.m. third-place game.
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.
No fans may be in attendance at the 2021 MPSF Tournament due to LA County guidelines, but all games will be available for live streaming at mpsports.org/watch for a fee. All games also will have live stats available at theFOSH.net.
The 2021 MPSF Tournament is structured to have out-of-state teams Penn State Behrend (0-0) and Austin College (0-2) play each other first to determine the No. 5 and 6 seeds in the tournament. They'll face off at 9 a.m. on Friday (March 5), with the losing team facing No. 3 seed Stanford (3-3) at 1 p.m. and the winning team going on to face the No. 4 seeded Trojans (4-7) at 4 p.m. Top-seeded Cal (7-3) and No. 2 seed UCLA (5-5) await their opponents for semifinal bouts on Saturday (March 6), with placement games set for Sunday (March 7). All the action is at UCLA's Spieker Aquatics Center.
THIS TIME LAST YEAR
USC was the top seed in last year's MPSF Tournament after going 3-0 during the MPSF regular season to hold a 13-4 overall record entering the postseason. The Trojans would take a 12-9 loss to tournament host Cal in the semifinals, moving into the third-place game. There, USC overpowered UCLA 10-6 to claim third and help earn an at-large berth in what would be USC's 15th straight NCAA Tournament. At the close of the MPSF event, Jacob Mercep was named to the MPSF All-Tournament Team.
BY THE NUMBERS
As the postseason presents itself this week, Jacob Mercep leads USC's scoring charge with 28 goals to date. He has scored in 10 games with eight multi-goal outings as he's climbed the USC career charts to currently rank No. 18 all-time with 140 goals as a Trojan. In addition to Mercep, USC has four other Trjoans who have scored more than 10 goals to date — Jake Ehrhardt (13), Wyatt Barker (11), Carson Kranz (11) and Marcus Longton (11). Junior goalie Nic Porter, meanwhile, has logged 434 career saves to lift himself into Trojans' all-time top-10, now ranked No. 10 and just four saves away from taking over the No. 9 spot. Porter is averaging 11.2 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 six games to date. Senior goalie Vaios Vlahotasios capped up for his first full game in the cage against Pepperdine on Feb. 14 and made 14 saves. All told, USC's goalkeeping corps is averaging 11.4 saves per game. As a team, USC is averaging 8.8 goals per game offensively and has allowed 9.5 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. 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.
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 has welcomed 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 new faces in that hole position for the Trojans. Together, that trio of newcomers has tallied 19 goals for the Trojans to date.
USC's trio of left-handed attackers — All-American Jacob Mercep, Luke Wyatt and sophomore Marcus Longton — are balanced on the perimeter by several more sure-handed gunners. Adding further to USC's offensive onslaught, are the high-powered scoring abilities of Chris Sturtevant and Jake Ehrhardt along with fellow returners Orestis Apergi and Alexander Lansill. Meanwhile, newcomer Carson Kranz.and his fellow freshman Tom McGuire have also established themselves as impact players on the attack 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 freshman Blake Jackson.
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. •