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No. 5 USC Men’s Water Polo Takes Aim At Tourney Title With Action At MPSF Invite

Sep 21, 2022

2022 MPSF Invitational
Avery Aquatic Center (Palo Alto, Calif.)
Friday, Sept. 23
USC vs. #16 Fordham — 4:40 p.m.
Saturday, Sept. 24
USC vs. #6 UC Davis/#13 UC Irvine — 12 p.m.
Sunday, Sept. 25 
Third Place Game — 11:30 a.m.
Championship Game — 1 p.m.


No. 5 USC sets up defense of its 2021 MPSF Invitational title this weekend, as the Trojans (8-2) head to Stanford's Avery Aquatic Center for action at the 2022 edition of the competitive early-season tournament. USC opens up with a 4:40 p.m. faceoff against No. 16 Fordham on Friday (Sept. 23). Group play wraps up on Saturday (Sept. 24) at 12 p.m. against either No. 6 UC Davis or No. 13 UC Irvine. Two wins in group play would send USC on to the semifinals at 5:20 p.m. that evening. On Sunday (Sept. 25), placement games are on tap, with the championship set for 1 p.m., preceded by an 11:30 a.m. third-place game.

USC started the 2022 season ranked No. 2 in the national preseason poll and No. 3 in the preseason MPSF Coaches Poll. The Trojans were ranked No. 3 for the next two weeks, and as of the latest set of national rankings (released Sept. 21), USC currently ranks No. 5 in the nation. 

LAST WEEK        
USC was on the road for three games last week, taking a 15-13 loss at No. 5 Pacific before bouncing back with a 12-4 win at No. 6 UC Davis and a 14-5 win over No. 20 Navy at the Aggie Roundup. The Trojans trailed the Tigers by three before pulling to within one in the final minute, only to see the host hold off USC's comeback efforts in Stockton. The next day in Davis, USC buckled down at the Aggie Roundup. In addition to balanced offense, the Trojans got big performances from goalies Kyle McKenney and Eric Hubner. McKenney hauled in 12 saves against the Aggies, with two shutout periods of work along the way. And Eric Hubner played his first complete game in goal, setting his career high with 14 saves, including two penalty blocks, while also tallying the first goal scored by a USC goalie on record.

Now three weeks into the season, Massimo Di Martire leads USC's scoring charge with 21 goals, followed by 16 apiece from Marcus Longton, Ashworth Molthen and Jake Ehrhardt. On the defensive end, four goalies have seen time in the cage, with redshirt sophomore Blake Jackson and Kyle McKenney logging the majority of the minutes. McKenney has recorded three double-digit saves outings apiece so far, with Jackson hauling in a career-high in USC's OT win over Long Beach State. Redshirt freshman Eric Hubner became the third USC goalie this season to tally a double-digit save outing, setting his career high with 14 saves vs. Navy on Sept. 25. All told, USC's goalkeeping corps is averaging 10.7 saves per game. As a team, USC has outscored its opponents 131-74 for an average of 13.1 goals per game offensively and 7.4 goals-against per game defensively. The USC defense has held opponents scoreless in 10 periods, including a complete shutout of Concordia, which was shared by Jackson and Hubner on Sept. 3.

USC scored a second straight MPSF Newcomer of the Week award with redshirt freshman Eric Hubner's pick as this week's winner. The goalie had a breakout performance in USC's win against Navy, making a name for himself while also taking a spot in the history books. In his first full game in goal as a Trojan, Hubner blocked two 5-meter penalty shots on the way to a 14-save performance in USC's 14-5 win over No. 20 Navy at the Aggie Roundup. Hubner also became the first USC goalie on record to score a goal as he struck from distance in the first period to lift USC to a 3-1 lead. Hubner's 14 saves vs. the Midshipmen were the most in a game by a USC goalie this season.

After a dramatic victory in its home opener last week, the USC boasted the MPSF Newcomer of the Week award-winner in Massimo Di Martire. The Italian newcomer was the driving force in USC's overtime win over Long Beach State, and he had a key hand in two more Trojan victories over the weekend to help his cause in claiming his first collegiate award from the MPSF. Di Martire set his career high with a six-goal outburst in USC's 14-10 overtime win over No. 7 Long Beach State. It was the most goals scored by a Trojan in a single game so far this season. His third goal of the day was the score that forced overtime, where he'd add three more goals for USC as the Trojans took control in OT. Di Martire also tallied four steals and had an assist in the comeback win over the Beach. The next day at the Inland Empire Classic, Di Martire had four assists in a 21-12 win at Claremont-Mudd-Scripps and then had a goal and three assists in USC's 19-8 win over Pomona-Pitzer. A grad student in his first season at USC, Di Martire is the first Trojan to earn a weekly award from the MPSF this season.

ON THE RISE            
Now in his fifth season with the Trojans, Jake Ehrhardt continues his climb up the career scoring charts. With six goals tallied last week, Ehrhardt has moved up to rank No. 19 all-time, now with 140 career goals.

BACK FOR MORE            
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. 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. 

Jake 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 Ashworth Molthen also has been a member of Team USA, and junior Carson 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.

NEW CREW            
USC's incoming reinforcements are headlined by Italian import Massimo Di Martire, who also has National Team experience and who has joined 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.

PINTA'S PROGRAM            
Marko Pintaric, who has been part of 14 NCAA championships during his 21 years on the USC coaching staff, is in his fourth year at the helm of the Trojan water polo program. Last season on the men's side, he guided the Trojans to a 17th consecutive NCAA appearance, reaching the NCAA final for the 16th 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. 

LAST SEASON            
The 2021 season was a return to normalcy as far as scheduling goes, following a 2020 season affected by coronavirus restrictions. Head coach Marko Pintaric's 2021 Trojans made yet another run to the NCAA final, making it 16 appearances in the title match in the last 17 seasons. USC posted an 18-3 overall record in taking third at the MPSF Tournament and making it through to the NCAA championship, where the Trojans fell 13-12 to Cal. At season's end, USC had six players earn ACWPC All-America honors in First Team picks Hannes Daube, Jacob Mercep and Nic Porter, Third Team honorees Jake Ehrhardt and Ashworth Molthen, and Honorable Mention recipient Wyatt Barker. •