No. 5 USC Men’s Water Polo Sets Up To Host No. 15 San José State On Saturday
No. 5 USC stays in home waters this week, setting up to host No. 15 San José State at 12 p.m. on Saturday (Oct. 8) at Uytengsu Aquatics Center.
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. As of the latest set of national rankings (released Oct. 5), USC currently ranks No. 5 in the nation.
USC got back on winning track last week in digging out two victories to improve to 12-4 overall on the year. On Friday, USC shrugged off a first-half deficit and rattled off sevens straight goals to take charge en route to a 10-6 road win at No. 8 UC Santa Barbara. The Trojans had trailed 5-3 before turning the tide on the Gauchos, shutting out its hosts for a 16-minute stretch thanks in part to two 5-meter penalty blocks from goalie Kyle McKenney. Jake Ehrhardt and Andrej Grgurevic each tallied hat tricks in the comeback win. Two days later, back at Uytengsu Aquatics Center, the Trojans never trailed in a well-balanced home stand to beat visiting No. 9 UC Irvine 16-10. Ten different Trojans got to the back of the net while two Trojan goalies stepped up to protect it on the other end, led by Massimo Di Martire's four goals scored and nine saves put up by goalie Blake Jackson in the win.
BY THE NUMBERS
Now five weeks into the season, Massimo Di Martire leads USC's scoring charge with 37 goals, followed by 28 from Jake Ehrhardt, 27 by Ashworth Molthen and 22 from Marcus Longton. 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 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 9.5 saves per game. As a team, USC has outscored its opponents 221-131 for an average of 13.8 goals per game offensively and 8.2 goals-against per game defensively. The USC defense has held opponents scoreless in 12 periods, including a complete shutout of Concordia, which was shared by Jackson and Hubner on Sept. 3.
AND A FRESHMAN MAKES FOUR
USC has secured its fourth consecutive MPSF West Newcomer of the Week award — this one care of true freshman Andrej Grgurevic. His win on Oct. 3 follows two by grad student Massimo Di Martire and one by redshirt freshman Eric Hubner this season. Grgurevic extended his scoring streak to seven straight games while setting a career high for himself with a hat trick in USC's 10-6 comeback win at No. 8 UC Santa Barbara. His back-to-back goals in the third period pulled USC even and then gave the Trojans a lead they would not relinquish. Grgurevic also nabbed five steals and drew an exclusion in the road win. Against No. 9 UC Irvine, Grgurevic earned three exclusions and scored another goal for the Trojans in their 16-10 home win over the Anteaters. A native of Sydney, Australia, Grgurevic is USC's top-scoring true freshman this season with 17 goals scored to date.
USC scored a second straight MPSF Newcomer of the Week award with redshirt freshman Eric Hubner's pick as a winner on Sept. 19. 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.
MASSIMO MAKES HIS MARK
After a dramatic victory in USC's home opener, Massimo Di Martire was named the MPSF Newcomer of the Week on Sept. 12. 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 was the first Trojan to earn a weekly award from the MPSF this season. Two weeks later, he replicated that effort after tallying 11 goals at the MPSF Invite. Di Martire scored in all four games at the Invite, topping out with four goals in a 13-12 semifinal loss to No. 2 UCLA, where he also had an assist and two steals. Di Martire opened the event with three goals and a steal in USC's 17-8 win over No. 16 Fordham, followed by two goals, three assists, two blocks and a steal against No. 6 UC Davis to take a place in the semis with an 11-9 win. In the third-place game vs. No. 1 Cal, Di Martire scored twice and had a block and a steal in USC's 11-10 loss. He continues to lead the Trojans in scoring, now with 37 goals on the year
ON THE RISE
Now in his fifth season with the Trojans, Jake Ehrhardt continues his climb up the career scoring charts. With four more goals tallied last week, Ehrhardt has moved up to rank No. 11 all-time, now with 152 career goals. That puts him four goals shy of cracking the all-time top-10 at USC.
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.
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.
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.
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. •