No. 5 USC Men’s Water Polo Hits Malibu For Saturday Clash At No. 9 Pepperdine
No. 5 USC has a top-10 road trip on tap this weekend as the Trojans set up for a nonconference clash in Malibu. USC (13-5) pays a visit to No. 9 Pepperdine (12-10) for a 12 p.m. test on Saturday (Oct. 22).
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. 15), USC currently ranks No. 5 in the nation.
USC was forced into catchup mode early in last week's MPSF test at No. 2 California, and although the Trojans were able to get within one in the fourth frame, the host Golden Bears got the goals they needed to notch a 14-10 win. Massimo Di Martire tallied three goals, and goalie Kyle McKenney recorded nine saves, but USC was left with the loss in Berkeley, Calif. The Golden Bears surged to a 3-0 lead out of the gates to put the Trojans in a tough spot. Down by four goals on several occasions, USC was able to carve the deficit down to two during the second and third frames. Back-to-back goals from Massimo Di Martire and Carson Kranz pulled the score to 5-3 midway through the second, and then Ashworth Molthen's 6-on-5 finish off a fed from Marcus Longton had it at 6-4 to close the first half. Down 8-4 in the third, Molthen and Kranz would strike again for the Trojan cause, and it was an 8-6 deficit until Cal converted a power play, leaving USC behind 9-6 entering the fourth. The Trojans would again find themselves in a four-goal hole early in the fourth. A couple key USC defensive stops helped fuel up the Trojans, who got a spark from a cross cage blast from Marcus Longton. Di Martire nabbed a steal next, and Max Miller earned a 6-on-5 for USC. Longton would find Di Martire for the nearside strike there, and USC was again within two, trailing 10-8. Kyle McKenney interrupted a Cal offensive look with a steal, and then Molthen hit Andrej Grgurevic for a sizzling score that had USC in reach, down 10-9 with 3:05 to go. That's when Cal regrouped, however, finding the top corner to go up 11-9. Luka Brnetic catapulted in a shot to the low corner for USC next, and it was 11-10 with 1:55 remaining. But the Trojans would come up empty on the offensive end in the final stretch, while Cal converted a 5-meter penalty shot and then found two more in the final minute — an even score and an empty net — to finish off a 14-10 win.
BY THE NUMBERS
Massimo Di Martire leads USC's scoring charge with 42 goals, followed by 32 from Ashworth Molthen, 31 by Jake Ehrhardt and 24 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 13 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 9.4 saves per game. As a team, USC has outscored its opponents 249-152 for an average of 13.8 goals per game offensively and 8.4 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.
MASSIMO'S TRIPLE THREAT
USC grad student Massimo Di Martire hauled in three of USC's five consecutive MPSF Newcomer of the Week awards. His first came on Sept. 12 after a dramatic victory in USC's home opener, where the Italian newcomer was the driving force in USC's overtime win over Long Beach State. He had a key hand in two more Trojan victories over that 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. 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. On Oct. 10, Di Martire claimed his third award after putting forth another impressive effort to help pace USC to its ninth straight home victory last weekend. He was 2-for-2 shooting and added two assists and a steal in USC's 18-7 win over San José State. Both his goals and one assist came in the first period of play during a three-goal USC scoring rally to take the lead for good against the Spartans. Di Martire continues to lead the Trojans and the MPSF in scoring, now with 42 goals on the year
AND A FRESHMAN MAKES FOUR
USC secured its fourth consecutive MPSF West Newcomer of the Week award — this one care of true freshman Andrej Grgurevic on Oct. 3. His win followed 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 18 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.
ON THE RISE
Now in his fifth season with the Trojans, Jake Ehrhardt continues his climb up the career scoring charts. With 31 goals this year, Ehrhardt has moved up to rank No. 11 all-time, now with 155 career goals. That puts him one goal 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 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. •