Water Polo

Men’s water polo finishes third in MPSF Championship

The Trojans earned an at-large bid in the NCAA Tournament beginning March 18.

This past weekend, UCLA hosted the MPSF Conference Championship and the No. 4 Trojans aimed to prove that they were better than their 3-7 conference record. The Trojans finished third in the MPSF conference tournament. As such, USC will play in the NCAA quarterfinal, instead of sailing into the semifinal.

On Friday afternoon, USC blew out No. 5 Austin College 21-5 to cruise into the semifinal game against Cal. Eleven USC players hit the scoresheet, including freshman two-meter Tony Nardelli with six goals and junior two-meter Jake Ehrhardt with a hat trick. Senior goalie Vaios Vlahotasios made 12 saves.

Coming in against Cal, USC had to be perfect to make it to the championship. It was a close match, but USC could not thwart Cal’s offense or defense and fell 11-8.

Senior driver Jacob Mercep nabbed four goals, but the team can’t rely solely on Mercep for a successful offense.

The Trojans were also given 13 power play opportunities but only capitalized on three of them.

Junior goalie Nic Porter came up with 13 saves, but the Trojans’ defense still allowed the Bears to get 30 shots off, putting overwhelming pressure on Porter.

“We were not satisfied with the way we ran our defense against Cal,” coach Marko Pintaric said. “We gave up too many opportunities to their best players.”

As a result of the loss, USC took on No. 2 UCLA in the consolation game, who was defeated by No. 3 Stanford, the ultimate MPSF champion. It was a repeat of last season’s third-place game, and the end result was the same: the Trojans beat the Bruins.

USC completely controlled the match. USC held UCLA scoreless through the first 15 minutes of play off incredible defense and goaltending.

“We made adjustments connected to our defense against UCLA, and the team responded very well,” Pintaric said.

The Trojans were up 5-1 going into the third quarter.

Redshirt senior driver Luke Wyatt helped build USC’s lead in the third period. Wyatt achieved his first career hat trick with a goal in the second quarter and two goals in the third. However, UCLA began to play more aggressively to try and close the gap.

During the fourth quarter, the Bruins got within two goals but that was the closest they got. USC notched a couple more goals to seal the win, with a final score of 11-4.

Mercep collected six points — two goals and four assists — and Porter made 14 saves in the all-around impressive win.

USC has been selected to be a part of the NCAA Tournament for the 16th straight year.

“For us, it’s always defense,” Pintaric said of preparation for the NCAA Tournament. “But I’m still not satisfied with the way we are setting and shooting the ball. Our shooting percentage needs to go up.”

USC is slated to host the NCAA tournament at Uytengsu Aquatic Center on March 18-21. The Trojans will face Bucknell in the quarterfinal on March 18.