No. 1 USC Men’s Water Polo Skips Town For Action At Aggie Roundup
#1 USC (4-0) vs. #11 San José St. (2-4)
Friday, Sept. 17 | 1 p.m.
Series Record: USC leads 8-0
Last Meeting: USC 17, SJSU 9 (Nov. 3, 2019)
#1 USC vs. #14 Santa Clara
Saturday, Sept. 18 | 11:30 a.m.
Series Record: USC leads 9-0
Last Meeting: USC 20, SCU 3 (Sept. 17, 2017)
#1 USC at #8 UC Davis
Saturday, Sept. 18 | 4 p.m.
Series Record: USC leads 16-0
Last Meeting: USC 16, UCD 9 (Sept. 15, 2018)
No. 1 USC hits the road this weekend for action at the Aggie Roundup in Davis, Calif. The Trojans (4-0) first face off against No. 11 San José State (2-4) for a 1 p.m. clash on Friday (Sept. 17). On Saturday (Sept. 18), there's a doubleheader on tap for USC with an 11:30 a.m. clash with No. 14 Santa Clara (4-2) before an afternoon tilt with host No. 8 UC Davis (5-0) at 4 p.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. 15), USC has moved up into a tie at No. 1 in the land after the first two weeks of competition.
The No. 11 Spartans are 2-4 overall after picking up a win and two losses last week. SJSU beat Santa Clara (16-6) and lost to UC Davis (10-7) and to Cal (16-9). Mark Kis leads the Spartans in scoring with 10 goals. Goalie Yahav Fire is averaging 10.5 saves and 10.4 goals-against per game in his five appearances. In a series dating back to 1979, USC is 8-0 all-time against San José State. In their last meeting, USC beat the Spartans 17-9 at Uytengsu Aquatics Center.
The No. 14 Broncos enter this week 4-2 overall after a 16-6 loss to San José State last week. Ford Eldredge and Cody Ferguson lead the Broncos in scoring with 10 goals each. Goalies Sean Tehaney and Chase Zamborelli have shared time in the cage. In a series dating back to 1988, USC is 9-0 all-time against Santa Clara. In the most recent meeting, the Trojans beat the Broncos 20-3 the 2017 Aggie Roundup.
The No. 8 Aggies enter this week 5-0 overall beating San José State 10-7 last week. Aleix Aznar Beltran leads the Aggies in scoring with 17 goals. Goalie Aaron Wilson is averaging 8.3 saves and 6.7 goals-against per game in four appearances. In a series dating back to 1980, USC is 16-0 all-time against UC Davis. In the most recent meeting, the Trojans beat the Aggies 16-9 at the 2018 Aggie Roundup. UC Davis is coached by former Trojan Daniel Leyson.
USC drummed up three wins last week, posting a powerful 22-7 win over visiting No. 10 Pepperdine in a game that marked the most Trojan goals scored against the Waves in program history. The next day, USC stayed hot and picked up a 23-3 win over Occidental and a 16-5 win over host Claremont-Mudd-Scripps out at the Inland Empire Classic. Against the Waves, two USC juniors — Marcus Longton and Chris Sturtevant — hit new career highs with five and four goals apiece, respectively, while senior Jake Ehrhardt scored four goals on his birthday. Goalie Nic Porter, meanwhile, drummed up 13 saves in the cage help lock down the well-rounded USC victory, inwhich USC broke open an early tie with a six-goal rally to take the lead for good. At the Inland Empire Classic, 17 different players scored goals and four USC goalies capped up in the cage across the two wins. The morning's first matchup against Occidental featured hat tricks from senior Jacob Mercep and freshman Aidan Wattson as well as the USC debut for grad transfer goalie Kyle McKenney, who spelled Blake Jackson in the final frame. McKenney made six saves and gave up no goals in his eight minutes of action while USC poured out seven goals on the offensive end to help cap that 23-3 win over the Tigers. In all, 13 different Trojans scored in the victory, including freshman Joshua Waldoch's first career tallies as a Trojan with his two-goal effort. An hour or so later, USC splashed back down for more action in Claremont, taking on the host Stags. Along the way to a 16-5 win, 10 Trojans scored. For the fourth time in USC's four official games, Mercep and Marcus Longton had multi-goal outings. Longton notched a hat trick, while Mercep was one of four Trojans with two goals. At the defensive end, senior goalie Nic Porter gave way to redshirt sophomore Garrett Allen in the second half, where Allen saw his first minutes as a Trojan and collected five saves in his debut.
BY THE NUMBERS
After two weeks of action, Marcus Longton and Jacob Mercep leads USC's scoring charge with 13 goals apiece. Both have tallied multiple-goal games in all four USC contests to date. Mercep's scoring surge has lifted him up the career ladder as well, now ranked No. 7 all-time at USC with 165 career goals — two shy of the No. 6 spot currently held by Daniel Leyson. On the defensive end, four goalies have shared time in the cage. Senior Nic Porter and redshirt freshman Blake Jackson have logged the majority of the minutes, with Porter holding 28 saves in eight periods of work, while Jackson has 10 saves in five frames of action. Porter has already notched one double-digit save performance with 13 hauled in vs. Pepperdine. All told, USC's goalkeeping corps is averaging 12.25 saves per game. As a team, USC has outscored its opponents 89-20 for an average of 22.25 goals per game offensively and 5.0 goals-against per game defensively. The USC defense has held opponents scoreless in four periods.
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. Already this season, three goalies have seen their first minutes as a Trojan in Jackson, Allen and McKenney.
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. •