2022 USC Men's Water Polo Season Outlook: No. 2 Trojans Look To Return to NCAA Title Game
After a productive business trip to Europe, the USC men's water polo team is ready to clock in for work in the home office. Back in July, the Trojans journeyed to Europe for a team training trip jam-packed with competition. What's more, the venture offered USC's seven newcomers valuable hours alongside returning Trojans, building up chemistry and experience sure to give head coach Marko Pintaric's 2022 squad a powerful foundation for the season to come.
"It was super valuable in terms of experience," Pintaric said of the trip, which took the Trojans through Spain and Croatia. "We played about 15 games, and the No. 1 thing was that our newcomers had a chance to play together, work on fundamentals of our system and develop our team chemistry. Usually that takes the whole year."
As NCAA finalists last season, this year's Trojans open the 2022 campaign ranked No. 2 in the nation. USC went 18-3 overall in that run to the title match — the program's 15th appearance in the final in its 16 consecutive trips to the NCAA tourney. Two All-Americans — Jake Ehrhardt and Ashworth Molthen — both return from that 2021 roster, which also featured All-MPSF honoree Carson Kranz. In all, USC's arsenal includes savvy seniors Marcus Longton and Chris Sturtevant. Ehrhardt and Sturtevant serve as USC's team captains, leading a 30-player Trojan roster boasting balance, talent and determination to bring the program its 11th national championship.
"Every year our ultimate goal is to win the national championship," Pintaric said. "The strength of our team that I'm noticing is our team chemistry and leadership. Our seniors in particular know the system and they've been to the NCAA Tournament every year, so they are teaching the newer players what it takes."
Ehrhardt has four seasons of experience with the Trojans, having been a freshman when USC won its most recent NCAA crown in 2018. He also has U.S. National Team experience — although he is not alone. Redshirt senior Molthen also has been a member of Team USA, and junior Kranz represented the United States at the 2021 FINA Junior World Championship. Additionally, three newcomers saw international action at the recent FINA Youth World Championships, where freshmen Evan Ausmus and Bernardo Herzer played for the USA, and freshman Andrej Grgurevic capped up for Australia.
Last season, Ehrhardt, Molthen, Longton and Kranz all logged at least 20 goals for the Trojan cause, and their firepower will be key to USC's gameplan in 2022. They'll have plenty of support, too. Savvy perimeter scoring prowess also returns in the hands of Sturtevant, Chris Agliozzo, Luka Brnetic, Jake Carter, Tom McGuire and Joshua Waldoch, while the offensive grunt work at two-meters falls largely on the muscle of Max Miller and Tony Nardelli.
USC's incoming reinforcements are headlined by Italian import Massimo Di Martire, who also has National Team experience and who joins the Trojans as a grad student. And in addition to Ausmus, Grgurevic and Herzer, USC's true freshmen are primed to shine. Lefties Charlie Saunders and Jack Vort pair well with the two-meter power of Zac Crenshaw. Meanwhile, fans can expect to see more of returners Reed Stemler, Henry Saunders and Aidan Wattson.
Not to be missed is USC's depth between the pipes. Goalies Blake Jackson, Kyle McKenney and Garrett Allen each logged minutes last year and stand to provide a staunch rotation of defensive backbone along with redshirt freshman Eric Hubner and true freshman Herzer.
"I'm very confident in our group of goalies," Pintaric said. "They work hard, and the defense in front of them is working hard to protect them, too. Offensively we have lefties, guards who can shoot and excellent shooters all around. Our post-up game is also strong. We have eight guys who can go in and post up. Our offense is looking consistent, and I'm excited for this season to start."
USC's 2022 campaign begins this weekend with a trip to San Diego for the Triton Invitational. The Trojans kick off the tourney on Saturday (Sept. 2) with an opener against Concordia at 9:20 a.m. at UC San Diego's Canyonview Aquatic Center. At 3 p.m. that afternoon, USC will face either UC Irvine or Redlands. On Sunday (Sept. 3), semifinals and placement games are on tap. To follow along, visit the Triton Invitational Central Page.