The Trojans went 1-2 this weekend in Palo Alto, California, again facing conference rivals Cal, Stanford and UCLA. Coming off a strong 13-7 win against Pepperdine on Feb. 14, the Trojans were looking to keep their positive momentum. They had mixed results, losing to Cal and Stanford but taking a win against UCLA.
The team made progress, though, from its 0-3 showing at the previous tournament.
“Until the last tournament, it’s going to be constant improvement,” head coach Marko Pintaric said. “That is the goal; that is the message we constantly give to our players.”
On Saturday afternoon, USC and Cal went back-and-forth in scoring and the Trojans entered the third quarter leading 6-5. But after a sudden five-goal surge, the Bears emerged with the 10-7 victory.
A few hours later, USC faced Stanford but again fell short. The Trojans started out on top, thanks to two goals from senior driver Jacob Mercep. After being up 2-0, USC allowed Stanford to go on a 12-4 run through the end of the third frame.
USC attempted a comeback behind two goals from freshman driver Carson Kranz but could not generate enough offense, ultimately falling to the Cardinal 15-9.
After these two losses on Saturday, the Trojans needed to make adjustments to have a fighting chance against foe UCLA on Sunday.
“We actually completely changed our rotations to give everyone a chance to play equal minutes and to create new enthusiasm to play,” Pintaric said.
These shifts were widely successful against UCLA. After being down 2-0, junior two-meter Jake Ehrhart got USC on the board, bringing his goal total for the weekend to five. It looked like an even match as USC took a 5-4 lead into the fourth quarter.
In the final frame, USC revved up its game and scored four unanswered goals en route to a 9-4 victory. Senior two-meter Wyatt Barker dominated the fourth quarter, netting three of the goals and ending with four on the game. Junior goalie Nic Porter was also an enormous factor in the win, making 10 saves and allowing just four goals.
Although the Trojans went 1-2 in the tournament, the team looks promising for future play after ending on a high note. However, with the regular season over and only the conference and national tournaments ahead, USC has limited time to improve its record from its current .364. The Trojans have not ended the season with a losing record since 1991.
“It’s a very young team in terms of experience and playing together, so you do a lot of things on-the-go and try new things constantly,” Pintaric said.
One of the biggest changes the Trojans made was trying players in different positions because the team is down a few true guards. Barker, freshman two-meter Tony Nardelli and Kranz all spent time as center defenders and were all successful and productive in the position.
The Trojans hope to take this momentum with them to the MPSF quarterfinal on March 5 at UCLA’s Spieker Aquatics Center. USC is the fourth seed and will play the winner of an opening round game between Penn State Behrend and Austin College.