Water Polo

USC men’s water polo advances to NCAA Tournament semifinal

Bolstered by Jake Ehrhardt, the Trojans beat Bucknell in a resounding 18-9 win.

In their home pool at Uytengsu Aquatic Center, the USC Trojans handily defeated the Bucknell Bison in a decisive 18-9 win in the quarterfinal of the NCAA Tournament.

The last time these two teams met was during the opening round of the 2019 NCAA Tournament. Like last season, the Trojans beat the Bison cleanly to move on to the semifinal.

“I’m really pleased with the victory we had today and that we accomplished another quarterfinal,” USC head coach Marko Pintaric said.

In the first quarter, USC created great scoring chances, stumping Bucknell. Two minutes and forty seconds in to the match, junior two-meter Jake Ehrhardt got the Trojans on the board with a power play goal, leading the charge for five more Trojan goals in five minutes. USC held Bucknell scoreless in the first by forcing the Bison to make turnovers.

During the second quarter, the control over play was a lot more evenly distributed between the two teams, with USC scoring three times and Bucknell netting two goals. But thanks to the commanding lead in the first frame, USC finished the first half up 9-2. Freshman driver Carson Kranz contributed a hat trick for USC in the first 16 minutes of play.

In the always critical third quarter, USC had another strong offensive push. Ehrhardt tallied three goals in this quarter alone, giving him a total of five for the game, his best scoring performance of the season.

The Trojans gave up a few good looks to Bucknell, though. The Bison notched four goals in the third, including two on a power play and one on a penalty shot.

Coming into the final quarter up 15-6, USC wasn’t yet done scoring. Freshman two-meter Tony Nardelli finished off a hat trick with a power play goal in the last four minutes of play. Sophomore driver Chris Sturtevant also had an impressive match, collecting two goals and four assists.

USC scored eight times out of 11 opportunities on 6-on-5 advantages Thursday. Ten different Trojans collected points in the match.

Cal, USC’s semifinal opponent, will be tough competition. The Bears automatically qualified for the semifinal and have an 8-4 overall record, compared to USC’s 7-8 mark. USC has already faced Cal five times this season and only won in their first encounter.

Despite these previous results, the Trojans are optimistic about their chances.

“We’re really just looking forward to the rest of the weekend,” Ehrhardt said. “We just need to focus on our gameplay. We don’t need to go outside that because we have everything in store. We have to just keep doing what we’re doing and bring a lot of energy on Saturday.”

Nardelli echoed this sentiment, saying that he’s “excited to play Cal.” He believes that USC will “definitely win this year.”

USC and Cal will square off Saturday at 5 p.m. The game will be available to stream on NCAA.com.