No. 2 USC Men’s Water Polo Hosts Pepperdine Saturday, Spends Sunday At Inland Empire Classic
INLAND EMPIRE CLASSIC
Axelrood Pool (Claremont, Calif.)
#2 USC vs. Occidental
Sunday, Sept. 12 | 9 a.m.
Series Record: USC leads 3-0
Last Meeting: USC 24, OXY 0 (Sept. 13, 2014)
No. 2 USC has a busy weekend ahead, setting up first at home before two tilts on the road. On Saturday (Sept. 11), the Trojans (1-0) host No. 10 Pepperdine (3-1) at 3 p.m. at Uytengsu Aquatics Center. The next day, USC heads to Claremont for action at the Inland Empire Classic. That Sunday (Sept. 12), USC takes on Occidental at 9 a.m. before facing host Claremont-Mudd-Scripps at 11:30 a.m.
USC started this 2021 season ranked No. 2 in the national preseason poll and No. 1 in the MPSF Coaches Poll. In the latest set of national rankings (Sept. 8), USC remains at No. 2 in the land after the first weekend of competition.
The No. 10 Waves are 3-1 overall after competition at the Triton Invitational last week. Pepperdine beat CBU (12-10), Biola (19-4) and Occidental (18-5) and lost to UC San Diego (17-12) at the event. Sean Ferrari leads the Waves in scoring with 10 goals. Goalie John Claude Marco is averaging 5.5 saves and 10.9 goals-against per game in his four appearances. In a series dating back to 1979, USC is 66-20-2 all-time against Pepperdine. Last year, USC beat Pepperdine 13-7 at Uytengsu Aquatics Center.
The Tigers enter this week 0-4 overall after competition at the Triton Invitational last week. Oxy lost to UC San Diego (17-4), UC Santa Barbara (24-5), Long Beach State (18-5) and Pepperdine (18-5) at the event. Keegan Klein leads the Tigers in scoring with five goals. In a series dating back to 1980, USC is 3-0 all-time against Pepperdine. In the most recent meeting, the Trojans beat the Tigers 24-0 at the 2014 Inland Empire Classic in Redlands.
The Stags enter this week 2-2 overall after competition at the Rare Air Challenge last week. CMS beat McKendree (10-5) and Ottawa (Ariz.) (15-6) and lost to host Air Force (15-7) and Cal Lutheran (15-6) at the event. Sam Harrison leads the Stags in scoring with six goals. In a series dating back to 1983, USC is 16-0 all-time against Claremont-Mudd-Scripps. In the most recent meeting, the Trojans beat the Tigers 21-9 at the 2019 Inland Empire Classic in Claremont.
USC got out of the gates of this 2021 season with a pair of high-powered efforts last weekend. The doubleheader began with a morning matchup against West Valley College, where 12 Trojans scored to build out a 27-9 win over the Vikings in an exhibition contest. USC's first official action of the year followed soon after, with the Trojans topping La Verne 28-5 behind an onslaught of 14 different Trojan scorers to get USC a 1-0 start to the season. USC goalies Nic Porter and Blake Jackson tag-teamed the cage in both tests, with senior Porter combining nicely with redshirt freshman Jackson. Jackson's first action as a Trojan featured a fourth-frame shutout in the win over the Leopards. The morning began slowly for the Trojans, who saw West Valley take early leads before the Trojans responded with a seven-goal surge that stretched from the first period into the second. Back from the Olympics, Hannes Daube delivered two goals in that Trojan rally as USC got out ahead for good with a 10-3 lead. USC scored three straight to wrap the first half, with Chris Sturtevant going back-to-back to build a 17-5 USC lead at the break. He'd finish up as USC's top scorer with four goals against the Vikings, while Daube, McGuire, Marcus Longton, Alexander Lansill and Jacob Mercep each tallied hat tricks in the exhibition action as USC posted a 27-9 decision over West Valley. From there, the Trojans got right back to business with their first official test of the season. USC rattled off the first eight goals of the game in that one, with Jacob Mercep notching three in that rally. USC would unleash another eight-goal surge soona fter. Mercep ran his tally out to five goals with two more in that run, with Hannes Daube adding a pair as well, while freshman Jake Carter notched his first goal as a Trojan. In the fourth frame, the USC defense allowed no goals, and another USC freshman earned his stripes as Aidan Wattson scored his first goal as a Trojan en route to a 28-5 Trojan victory.
Only two members of the 2020 NCAA Tournament roster are gone, while USC welcomes in a trio of U.S. National Team players — all three already All-Americans with NCAA Tournament experience — who had been training overseas. Those bodies include some heavy-hitters, with USC's top scorer the past three seasons — Jacob Mercep — back for more and joined by Olympians Hannes Daube and Marko Vavic. Add to that the firepower of National Teamer Ashworth Molthen, a transfer from UCLA, along with senior sharpshooter Jake Ehrhardt, and USC's attacking power is downright formidable. USC's danger zone on the left-hander side is markedly deep, with Mercep and Molthen joined by junior Marcus Longton — another proven power on the perimeter.
Even more versatility flows from a batch of Trojans who saw key playing time during their first season at USC. Now sophomores, it's well known that Carson Kranz, Max Miller, Tony Nardelli and Tom McGuire can pack some scoring punch. Also in his second season as a Trojan is grad student Wyatt Barker, who developed into a daunting two-meter presence and is back for more in 2021. More returning skill is seen in Chris Sturtevant, Stefan Vavic and Joshua Waldoch, with the highly anticipated addition of Croatian freshman Luka Brnetic sure to cause a stir for the Trojans.
From a leadership standpoint, USC also leans on some stalwarts. Olympian Marko Vavic brings back a breadth of experience from his travels, joining a set of strong senior guidance from Alexander Lansill, Nic Porter, Ehrhardt and Mercep. Porter's voice is particularly powerful, as he is set to cap up in the cage for his fourth season manning the Trojan goal. The All-American Aussie is the backbone of the Trojan defense and, along with the rest of his Trojan seniors, is determined to finish 2021 with another NCAA Championship ring to go along with their 2018 title.
Nic Porter has some talented young goalies by his side this year, with redshirt freshman Blake Jackson blooming into a contender for significant playing time. Garrett Allen also returns to the cage, with two new Trojan goalies also in the mix in Pepperdine grad transfer Kyle McKenney and true freshman Eric Hubner.
Marko Pintaric, who has been part of 14 NCAA championships during his 20 years on the USC coaching staff, is in his third year at the helm of the Trojan water polo program. Last season on the men's side, he guided the Trojans to a 16th consecutive NCAA appearance, reaching the NCAA final for the 15th time in that span. 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 assistant coaches Connor Virjee and Jeremy Davie on the men's staff.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, 2020 men's water polo competition shifted to the spring and featured a condensed schedule for MPSF teams. USC was ranked No. 1 to open the competition, which comprised three Round Robin events among MPSF teams and a single nonconference meeting for USC against Pepperdine. The Trojans would post a 3-7 record in those MPSF meetings, going on to take third at the MPSF Tournament and earning a 16th consecutive trip to the NCAA Tournament. USC would host the NCAA event, reaching the final for the 15th time in that 16-year span. The NCAA title match was a tight one, and USC would fall 7-6 to UCLA. In an abbreviated honor roll for 2020, three Trojans earned ACWPC All-America First Team honors — Jake Ehrhardt, Jacob Mercep and Nic Porter. •