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No. 2 USC Men’s Water Polo Eyes MPSF Tournament Title This Weekend

Nov 17, 2021

2021 MPSF CHAMPIONSHIP TOURNAMENT (Avery Aquatic Center)
Friday, Nov. 19
9 a.m. — Penn State Behrend vs. Austin College (5/6 seed game)
1 p.m. — Game 1: [3] UCLA vs. [6] Austin/Penn St. Behrend
2:45 p.m. — Game 2: [4] Stanford vs. [5] Austin/Penn St. Behrend
Saturday, Nov. 20
9:30 a.m. — Semifinal 1: [1] California vs. Game 2 winner
11:15 a.m. — Semifinal 2: [2] USC vs. Game 1 winner
Sunday, Nov. 21
11:15 a.m. — 5th Place Game    
1 p.m. — 3rd Place Game
2:45 p.m. — Championship Game

THIS WEEK        
USC has secured the No. 2 seed for the upcoming 2021 MPSF Championship Tournament, running Nov. 19-21 at Stanford's Avery Aquatic Center. The Trojans (16-1) have thus earned a first-round bye to skip straight to the semifinals, where they will face either No. 3 seed UCLA or the sixth-seeded team — either Austin or Penn State Behrend. That semifinal bout is set for Saturday (Nov. 20) at 11:15 a.m. A win would push USC into contention for the tourney title and the ensuing automatic berth in the coming NCAA Tournament. On Sunday  (Nov. 21), the MPSF final is set for 2:45 p.m. following a 1  p.m. third-place game.

RANKINGS        
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 on Oct. 13. USC pulled into a tie at No. 2 on Nov. 3 before taking sole possession of that second spot on Nov. 11. And as of the latest national rankings (released Nov. 17), USC still stands at No. 2 in the land.

MPSF RUNDOWN        
The 2021 MPSF Tournament is structured to have out-of-state teams Austin College (6-8) and Penn State Behrend (0-17) 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 (Nov. 19), with the losing team facing No. 3 seed UCLA (16-3) at 1 p.m. and the winning team going on to face No. 4 seeded Stanford (16-5) at 2:45 p.m. Top-seeded Cal (20-2) and No. 2 seed USC (16-1) await their opponents for semifinal bouts on Saturday (Nov. 20), with placement games set for Sunday (Nov. 21). All the action is at Stanford's Avery Aquatic Center. 

THIS TIME LAST YEAR        
USC was the No. 3 seed in last season's MPSF Tournament — held in March 2021 after an abbreviated regular season due to the coronavirus pandemic. USC had gone 3-7 during conference play, which featured three two-day events of competition between only the California-based MPSF schools. The Trojans would beat Austin College 21-5 in the openere before taking an 11-8 loss to Cal in the semifinals, moving into the third-place game. There, USC overpowered host UCLA 11-7 to claim third and help earn an at-large berth in what would be USC's 16th straight NCAA Tournament. At the close of the MPSF event, Jake Ehrhardt and Jacob Mercep were named to the MPSF All-Tournament Team.

LAST ACTION            
USC turned a one-goal game into a Trojan-controlled second half with another balanced effort at Uytengsu Aquatics Center, beating No. 7 UC Santa Barbara 13-9. Senior goalie Nic Porter collected 10 saves — his fourth consecutive outing with double-digit saves — while Hannes Daube and Jacob Mercep drummed up three goals apiece for the high-powered Trojans. USC improves to 15-1 overall with today's victory. USC rattled in five goals in the first frame. Joshua Waldoch opened the Trojans' account with an early strike out of set, and although the Gauchos fired back, Hannes Daube issued a solo skipper to net a USC lead it would not relinquish. His second blast capped the scoring for the first period as he finished off a setup from Ashworth Molthen for a 6-on-5 blast that had USC up 5-2 after eight minutes. The hits kept coming for USC, with Molthen finding Max Miller for an impressive score. Porter made a big save next, and then Mercep hammered home another power play rocket to craft a 7-2 lead. The Gauchos would score the last three goals of the half, however, making it 7-5 by halftime. Another UCSB goal out of the gates of the second half made it a four-goal surge for the Gauchos to carve it back to a one-goal game at 7-6. Miller was the workhorse for USC next to provide a much-needed offensive spark, After earning the power play for the Trojans, he'd whip in another great goal to make it 8-6. A minute later, Wyatt Barker earned a 5-meter penalty that Marcus Longton sizzled through to give USC a lift to lead it 9-6 in the third. UCSB would get no closer than two goals the rest of the way, as USC had an answer for any Gaucho goal. Mercep, Molthen and Daube all fired off feisty finishes in the fourth en route to the 13-9 final decision for the Trojans.

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            
Now nine weeks into the season, Jacob Mercep leads USC's scoring charge with 41 goals, followed by Jake Ehrhardt with 31, Hannes Daube with 27 and Marcus Longton with 26. 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 150 saves in 52 periods of work, while Jackson has 28 saves in 13 frames of action. Porter has notched nine double-digit save performances this year, and Jackson has one. All told, USC's goalkeeping corps is averaging 11.1 saves per game. As a team, USC has outscored its opponents 260-130 for an average of 15.3 goals per game offensively and 7.7 goals-against per game defensively. The USC defense has held opponents scoreless in six periods.

ON THE RISE            
Several Trojans are making moves up the career charts this season. Jacob Mercep leads the way, having risen to take over at No. 4 all-time at USC with 193 career goals as a Trojan. On Sept. 18, both Hannes Daube and Jake Ehrhardt scored their 100th career goals. Redshirt junior Daube now holds 121 career goals, and senior Ehrhardt has 120. On the defensive end, senior goalie Nic Porter just took over the No. 6 spot in career saves by Trojans, and now hold 636 saves — now just three away from No. 5. He's also now registered 33 double-digit save outings as a Trojan.

PORTER PICKS UP MPSF HONORS            
Senior goalie Nic Porter anchored a powerful Trojan effort at the MPSF Invitational, amassing 33 saves en route to the USC men's water polo team's championship win at the event in Berkeley. For his dominant defensive effort, Porter became 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. 

ANOTHER ROUND FOR PORTER            
For the second time this season and fourth time in his USC career, senior goalie Nic Porter was selected the MPSF Player of the Week on Oct. 25. Porter made a season-high 15 saves to help anchor USC's comeback win at Stanford while also climbing to rank No. 7 all-time in career saves at USC. USC had trailed by four goals in the third period, but — with Porter's work in the cage — the Trojans would give up just two Cardinal goals the rest of the way. Trailing 11-10 entering the fourth, Porter and the USC defense shut out Stanford entirely in the final period on the way to a 15-11 win. The Trojans improved to 14-1 overall and to 1-1  in MPSF play with the conference road win at Stanford. 

MERCEP MAKES ANOTHER MPSF MARK            
Jacob Mercep was a force to reckon with in the Trojans' win over UC Santa Barbara. For his all-around efforts, he was selected as the MPSF Player of the Week for the first time this season and fifth time as a Trojan. Mercep was 3-for-3 shooting and had two steals and one drawn exclusion in USC's 13-9 win over the No. 7 Gauchos. With his first of three goals in the game, Mercep climbed to take over at No. 4 all-time in career scoring at USC.

FULL FORCE            
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. 

DEPTH CHARGE            
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. 

LEADER BOARD            
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. 

CAGE FIGHTERS            
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.

PINTA'S PROGRAM            
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.

LAST SEASON            
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. •