The No. 2 USC men’s water polo team took the MPSF Invitational trophy after Sunday’s epic battle with No. 3 California. The Trojans emerged victorious in a 12-11 victory at the Spieker Aquatics Complex in Berkeley. With three consecutive wins during this tournament, USC improved their record to 10-0, remaining unbeaten on the season.
Even though USC attempted fewer shots than their opponents during the tournament, head coach Marko Pintaric isn’t worried and is pleased with the weekend’s results.
“I think our guys are actually playing smarter water polo. The shot selection I think is smarter. I think the shooting percentage that our top players have, most of the guys are 50% and over, and it’s about quality shots.” Pintaric said.
“I think the most important thing actually is defense as always.” said Pintaric, who mentioned the word ‘defense’ four times within one mintue.
In their first game against No. 7 UC Davis on Saturday morning, the Trojans scored the first two goals of the game to establish their offense early. The Aggies found their way back into the game and ended the third quarter trailing 7-9. USC made statements on both ends of the pool in the fourth quarter, forcing UC Davis scoreless for nearly five minutes and embarking on a 4-1 run to end the game. Senior Jacob Mercep scored a team-high three goals to lead the team to a 13-8 win, heading into the semifinals.
Against No. 3 Stanford in the afternoon matchup, the Trojans attacked with full force in the first half. With the offense clicking on all cylinders, USC finished the first half with a 9-3 lead. Sophomore Max Miller scored three consecutive goals in the first half. The Cardinals fought back in the third quarter and outscored USC with a 6-4 run, led by AJ Rossman and Quinn Woodhead. Although Stanford kept working to narrow the gap, they could not catch the Trojans who would hold on for a 15-13 victory.
The tournament final was an epic battle between USC and host No. 3 California. The Trojans started the game with a 2-0 run, led by Ashworth Molthen and Hannes Daube, but the Golden Bears constantly kept the game even. Both teams played high-quality defense and finished 3-3 by the end of the first half. Molthen gave USC a one-point advantage after hitting a goal four seconds before the end of the third quarter. Despite the Trojans 4-2 run in the first five minutes of the last quarter, Cal fought back to keep the game within one goal. USC Senior goalie Nic Porter shined, making two crucial saves against a late Cal 6-on-5, which secured USC’s 12-11 victory over Cal.
Porter stood out throughout the whole invitational with an impressive average of 11 saves per game, and he contributed 14 saves in USC’s win over the Golden Bears in the tournament final. Particularly, his clutch save in the last minute of the game extinguished the opponent’s overtime hopes. Porter hauled in MPSF Player of the Week.
“Our goalie really stepped out this weekend and made some crucial saves to keep the team really in check and to give us a chance to be where we are right now.” Pintaric said about Porter’s performance.
Next game, the Trojans return home to host Pacific in a non-conference clash at 1 p.m. on Saturday (Oct. 2) at Uytengsu Aquatics Center.