No. 3 USC Men’s Water Polo Set For Sunday Visit To No. 5 Long Beach State
#3 USC (12-1) at #5 Long Beach St. (15-4)
Sunday, Oct. 17 | 12 p.m.
Ken Lindgren Aquatics Center | Long Beach, Calif.
Series Record: USC leads 73-15 (W33)
Last Meeting: USC 9, LBSU 6 (Sept. 20, 2019)
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No. 3 USC levels its focus on a single nonconference clash this weekend, heading slightly southward for a matchup at No. 5 Long Beach State. The Trojans (12-1) take on the Beach (15-4) at 12 p.m. on Sunday (Oct. 17).
USC started this 2021 season ranked No. 2 in the national preseason poll and No. 1 in the MPSF Coaches Poll. As of Sept. 15, USC moved up into a tie at No. 1 in the land before dropping back to No. 2 on Sept. 22. USC took over as the No. 1 team in the nation on Sept 29 and remained in that spot until moving to No. 3 in the latest national rankings (released Oct. 13).
The No. 5 Beach enter the week at 15-4 overall after a 9-8 win over UC Santa Barbara in their last action. Long Beach State will face San José State on Friday before hosting the Trojans this weekend. Rafael Real Vergara leads the Beach in scoring with 44 goals. Goalie Andrej Bosanac has made 166 saves in his 18 appearances. In a series dating back to 1979, USC is 73-15 all-time against Long Beach State with wins in the past 33 meetings. In their last meeting, USC beat the Beach 9-6 during the 2019 SoCal Invitational.
USC came up short of forcing overtime in a tight MPSF battle with No. 5 California, falling 7-6 to the Golden Bears in the Trojans' first loss of the season. The back-and-forth battle began early, with Cal scoring first on a 6-on-5, only to see Hannes Daube rear up for a solo shot to equalize 20 seconds later. Both defenses locked in for the next stretch, with no goals scored for the next nine-and-a-half minutes of action. Cal cashed in on another 6-on-5 at 5:02 in the second to get back on top, but the Trojans followed suit with power play finishes from Jake Ehrhardt and Hannes Daube. USC's 3-2 advantage looked primed to hold up to halftime, but then the referee's whistle blew another exclusion on the Trojans, and Cal nailed another 6-on-5 to knot it at 3-3 eight seconds before the break. Defense was the name of the game again through much of the third, as Porter and Cal goalie Adrian Weinberg manned their respective cages well. USC broke the silence with a rocket from Ehrhardt off a feed from Jacob Mercep to nudge ahead 4-3. But Cal struck back with back-to-back blasts to lead it 5-4 entering the fourth. Max Miller would get USC up on a 6-on-5 early in the frame, and Daube found Ashworth Molthen for a fake and fire that leveled things for the fifth time at 5-5. Two minutes later, the Bears to back the lead on another successful 6-on-5 and then added to it a minute later on a 5-meter penalty shot. Down by two with just under four minutes to go,USC got one back on Ehrhardt's third of the day to make it 7-6 with 1:47 remaining. USC had a look at the equalizer later, but a field block stopped the Trojans' chance to force overtime in that one. The next day, USC bounced back with a strong road win, beating host No. 12 UC Irvine 17-8. Mercep delivered five of those Trojan goals, while Ashworth Molthen added three. USC outscored the Anteaters 6-1 in the final period to lock up the victory. It was a defensive battle early between the Trojans and Anteaters until USC finally broke through with back-to-back goals. That wasn't until after the midway mark of the firsthand UC Irvine still kept USC within reach, as it sat at as a 3-2 USC advantage after eight minutes of action. The Trojans would create some space in the second, allowing just one Anteater goal while USC spread the scoring wealth among Molthen, Mercep, Chris Sturtevant and Marcus Longton to build out a 7-3 by halftime. The third saw a see-saw battle ensure, with the teams trading two-goal surges and then winding up with four goals apiece as the margin was still four entering the fourth. That would be where the Trojans made their power move. USC scored the first three goals of that frame on strikes from Daube, Mercep and Jake Carter to craft a 14-7 advantage midway through the fourth. A single Anteater goal broke up the rally, but USC poured on three more before the buzzer as Chris Agliozzo and Carson Kranz joined the scoresheet and Carter notched a buzzer-beater to wrap the 17-8 win.
MPSF INVITE CHAMPS
USC pinned up three strong performances en route to winning the MPSF Invitational championship in Berkeley, claiming wins over UC Davis (13-8), Stanford (15-13) and host Cal (12-11). USC never trailed on Saturday, hitting the turbo boosters in both games to create some space and haul in two wins. A pair of three-goal surges helped put No. 7 UC Davis out of reach en route to a 13-8 win over the Aggies in the morning. That put the Trojans in the semifinals against No. 3 Stanford, which saw USC hit the gas in the first half with a four-goal rally that built a seven-goal advantage for USC before things tightened up to a final 15-13 Trojan win. USC had the first and last words in the championship game. Ashworth Molthen broke ground on the offensive end to open things up, finishing with a team-high three goals for the Trojan cause. And goalie Nic Porter capped off an impressive performance in the cage with one final save to squash any Golden Bear hopes of forcing overtime. Porter would wind up with a whopping 14 saves in the championship win. The score was tied up seven times, with Cal holding one-goal leads on two occasions in the third frame before USC created some crucial breathing room in the fourth period. Cal had knotted things up at 8-8 early, but USC responded with a booming 6-on-5 finish from Carson Kranz off a feed from Jacob Mercep to go up 9-8. Then, Porter stuffed a Cal 5-meter penalty shot to give the Trojans a huge lift. Mercep catapulted a long-range strike through to make it 10-8, and then Porter notched another save against a Cal power play. On the attack again, Kranz found Jake Ehrhardt for a laser that gave USC its largest lead, up 11-8 with 3:45 to go. Cal would find a quick reply, only to see Hannes Daube get USC up on a 6-on-5 next. He'd finish it off himself, taking a pass from Mercep and burying it to get USC ahead 12-9 with 3:05 on the clock. The Bears carved their deficit down to one less than a minute later, but the USC defense dug in for the final stretch. Two more Porter saves sandwiched a huge field block from Marcus Longton against a late Cal 6-on-5, and USC emerged victorious with the 12-11 decision.
BY THE NUMBERS
After six weeks of action, Jacob Mercep leads USC's scoring charge with 36 goals, followed by Jake Ehrhardt with 24, and Hannes Daube and Marcus Longton with 22 each. 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 102 saves in 36 periods of work, while Jackson has 28 saves in 13 frames of action. Porter has already notched five double-digit save performances this year, and Jackson has one. All told, USC's goalkeeping corps is averaging 10.9 saves per game. As a team, USC has outscored its opponents 211-94 for an average of 16;2 goals per game offensively and 7.2 goals-against per game defensively. The USC defense has held opponents scoreless in five periods.
ON THE RISE
Several Trojans are making moves up the career charts this season. Jacob Mercep leads the way, having risen to No. 5 all-time at USC with 188 career goals as a Trojan — two shy of the No. 4 spot. On Sept. 18, both Hannes Daube and Jake Ehrhardt scored their 100th career goals. Redshirt junior Daube now holds 116 career goals, and senior Ehrhardt has 113. On the defensive end, senior goalie Nic Porter took over the No. 8 spot in career saves by Trojans, and now hold 578 saves — 20 short of the No. 7 slot. He's also now registered 29 double-digit save outings as a Trojan.
PORTER PICKS UP MPSF HONORS
Senior goalie Nic Porter anchored a powerful Trojan effort last weekend, amassing 33 saves en route to the USC men's water polo team's championship win at the MPSF Invitational in Berkeley. For his dominant defensive effort, Porter is the first Trojan to be named MPSF Player of the Week this season. It's the third such selection for the Aussie native in his USC career. Porter averaged 11.0 saves per game in USC's run to the MPSF Invite championship. He topped out with a season-high 14 saves in the title match, turning away a 5-meter penalty shot in the fourth period for a key boost en route to the Trojans' 12-11 victory over host No. 3 Cal. Porter had opened the event with 10 saves — including a 5-meter penalty stop — in a 13-8 win over No. 7 UC Davis to help push USC into the semifinals. There, Porter notched nine saves and had two steals in USC's 15-13 win over No. 3 Stanford.
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. •