No. 2 USC Men Buckle In For Action At NorCal Invitational

    The Trojans scoot up to Stanford to fight for the NorCal title this weekend.
    Sept. 16, 2015

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    The No. 2 USC men’s water polo team enters the fray of a competitive KAP7 NorCal Invitational this weekend, where the Trojans are likely to get their first official looks against some of the other powers from the MPSF conference. USC (6-0) heads up to Stanford’s Avery Aquatic Center in Palo Alto to open up the tournament with an 8 a.m. matchup against Redlands on Saturday (Sept. 19). A win there would put the Trojans in a 3:25 p.m. clash against the winner of that morning’s group match between #8 UC Irvine and #12 Princeton. If the Trojans can grab two wins in group play on Saturday, they will move into a 12:15 p.m. semifinal bout on Sunday (Sept. 20) to fight for a spot in the 6:15 p.m. title match, which is preceded by a 4:50 p.m. third-place game.

    September 7, 2014
    San Diego, Calif.
    Long Beach City College6
    September 26, 2009
    McDonald's Swim Stadium
    USC was tabbed at No. 2 in the nation in the preseason national poll and in the MPSF preseason coaches’ poll as the Trojans take aim the 2015 season. USC has reached the NCAA title match for 10 consecutive seasons, with seven championships won in that span, and the Trojans are intent on a return trip to the top this year. As USC enters the third week of 2015 competition, the Trojans remain ranked No. 2 in the nation.


    The NorCal Invitational has traditionally offered one of the best early looks at the nation’s top teams. This year proves to be more of the same. Including tournament host Stanford, all but one Mountain Pacific Sports Federation teams will be included, along with competitive teams from around the country (Pacific is not in this year’s field). #16 Air Force and #12 Princeton are the only non-California-based team in the mix, joined by #10 UC Davis, Chapman, Redlands, Santa Clara and #10 UC San Diego to round out the 16-team field. All told, the 13 of the top 16 ranked teams in the nation will be in the mix. Last year, USC finished fourth at the NorCal tournament. USC beat Air Force 20-7 and UC Santa Barbara 12-7 in group play before taking a 9-7 loss to UCLA in the semifinals and falling 11-10 to Cal in the third-place game. USC last won the NorCal title in 2012.

    USC had another busy weekend last week and emerged victorious yet again. The Trojans picked up four powerful wins at the Inland Empire Classic, outscoring their opponents 101-16 at the event. On day one in Redlands, USC beat Whittier 30-4 and Chapman 28-5 in back-to-back matches. The hottest hands in each contest belonged to Blake Edwards and Matteo Morelli. Edwards got USC out of the gates by punching up four goals in the first period of play against the Poets, en route to a six-goal outing by the Trojan newcomer. Against Chapman, Morelli scored three in the first frame on the way to a five-goal effort in that one. Overall, USC had 16 different Trojans get to the back of the net across today’s two wins. Of those 16, two redshirt freshmen tallied their first career goals as Trojans. Murphy Slater went big in game one with a hat trick vs. Whittier, while Chase Koplow delivered a single strike in that one for his first career statistic. In the next game, Slater and Koplow each added another goal to their day’s work. Also making his first mark for the Trojans was redshirt freshman goalie Steven Michaud, who checked in for his first minutes in covering the cage for the fourth period of action against Chapman. The next day, The Trojans posted a 23-2 win over host La Verne to start the day before topping Claremont-Mudd-Scripps 20-5 to wrap up the competition. Leading the offensive charge once again was Blake Edwards, who was one of three Trojans with a hat trick against La Verne before going big with five goals in the win over C-M-S. USC also used its full arsenal of goalies in the games, with Baron, Goncharenko and Michaud all getting in on the defensive action in the cage. Registering his first career goal as a Trojan during the day was redshirt freshman Tristan Reinhardt, who rang up the Trojans’ 21st goal of the game against La Verne.

    Just six games into 2015, the Trojans are putting up some big numbers. Led by newcomer Blake Edwards with 25 goals, Matteo Morelli with 17 goals, Nick Bell with 13 and Lachlan Edwards and Nick Silvers with 11 each, USC has outscored opponents 149-27. Defensively, USC is allowing just 4.5 goals per game and has held opponents scoreless in five periods of regulation play so far. In these early stages of the year, USC currently ranks No. 1 in the MPSF in offense (24.8 gpg) and No. 2 in defense (4.5 gapg).

    As head coach Jovan Vavic digs into his third decade at the helm of the USC water polo program, the 2015 Trojans look to be a force to reckon with once again. Coming off their 10th consecutive trip to the NCAA final, the Trojans bring back a hefty load of players from that 2014 campaign. The only Trojan with three full seasons under his belt is redshirt senior Mac Carden. Meanwhile, USC’s youth movement now includes a powerful group of sophomores, including All-Americans McQuin Baron, Mihajlo Milicevic and James Walters. The relative veteran of that 2014 All-American crew, Nick Bell, enters his junior season as a Trojan. Baron and Bell also were All-MPSF honorees last season along with now-graduated All-Americans Rex Butler and Marc Vonderweidt and Cutino Award winner Kostas Genidounias.

    For the first time in years, USC doesn’t have a one-man scoring machine who stands out above the rest. In back-to-back seasons, the Trojans saw the program scoring record broken — first by Nikola Vavic in 2013 and then by Kostas Genidounias in 2014. This year, however, the scoring record is decidedly safe, as no returning Trojan comes into the season with more than 43 career goals. The last time that USC had this kind of off-the-radar offensive abilities was 2010, according to Vavic. That year, USC had no seniors on the roster, and still went on to capture a third consecutive NCAA championship. This season, aside from redshirt senior Mac Carden, the only other Trojan with first-hand experience of playing in and winning an NCAA championship is junior All-American Nick Bell, who raised the 2013 trophy alongside Carden.

    In 2014, USC had a whopping nine freshmen on the roster for the NCAA Tournament. Three of those freshmen earned All-American status last season and are back for more along with fellow All-American junior Nick Bell. Mihajlo Milicevic, James Walters and goalie McQuin Baron were All-American honorees after making a huge splash on the scene in their first seasons as Trojans. Baron set a USC record for single-season saves with 288 blocks logged in the cage last year. He’ll be joined once again in leading USC’s goalkeeping corps with sophomore Ben Goncharenko, with redshirt freshman goalie Steven Michaud also in the mix this season. USC’s depth charge runs deeper as one takes into account the likes of sophomores Lachlan Edwards, Bryce Hoerman, Matteo Morelli, Lazar Pasuljevic and Grant Stein — all members of USC’s 2014 NCAA Tournament roster. Morelli was the most productive of the group last year, scoring 40 goals for the Trojan cause, just ahead of 34 from Walters, 22 from Stein and 31 from Edwards.

    Along with the addition of junior newcomer Blake Edwards, USC has a solid set of talent locked into their first season of action as Trojans. True freshmen Zach D’Sa, Nick Lavayen and Nick Silvers are in line to considerable playing time this year. Head coach Jovan Vavic also is excited about the activation of a few players who redshirted last year, namely Murphy Slater, Tristan Reinhardt and Chase Koplow, as well as the marked improvement of redshirt sophomore Mitch Embrey. Aside from Lavayen, who only recently was declared eligible for competition, that entire group has already logged their first goals as Trojans.

    Over the summer, several Trojans combined forces with their respective national teams in order to secure qualification to the coming 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro. Current USC goalie McQuin Baron capped up along with USC grad Nikola Vavic for Team USA, winning gold at the 2015 Pan American Games to earn the United States a spot in Rio. Weeks later, those two Trojans were among a group of four USC men in action at the 2015 FINA World Championships in Kazan, Russia. When the waves settled out there, USC’s recent grad Kostas Genidounias was gripping a bronze medal that secured Greece with a ticket to the 2016 Games. The fourth Trojan male competing at Worlds was another Cutino Award winner, goalie Joel Dennerley, who is looking to make another Olympic appearance for Australia when he and the Aussies fight for qualification out of Oceania.

    2014 RECAP
    USC continued its streak of reaching NCAA title matches after upsetting No. 2 seeded Stanford in sudden-death overtime in the NCAA semifinals. The No. 3 seeded Trojans had to start their NCAA journey with a play-in game, and would surge into the final to face top-seeded UCLA. A 9-8 loss left the 2014 Trojans short of a seventh consecutive national championship, but the young Trojans had made a statement still in reaching the NCAA final for the 10th straight year. Under head coach Jovan Vavic’s guidance, USC finished the 2014 campaign with a 24-7 overall record after a 6-2 mark in MPSF play. Senior Kostas Genidounias broke USC’s all-time scoring record en route to being named the Peter J. Cutino Award recipient to go along with his 2014 honors as MPSF and National Player of the Year. The four-time All-American was joined by fellow seniors Rex Butler and Marc Vonderweidt on 2014’s All-American honor roll, as were four representatives of USC’s youth movement in sophomore Nick Bell and freshmen McQuin Baron, Mihajlo Milicevic and James Walters. In all, the Trojan offense — charged by 21 different scorers — averaged 14-2 goals per game, while the defense allowed 6.9 goals against per game. By season’s end, USC had outscored opponents 439-213. Freshman goalie Baron set the USC record for single-season saves with 288 collected in his first year as a Trojans.

    On Jan. 8, 2014, the Trojan Family lost a special member in the passing of USC freshman Jon Walters. At 19 years old, Walters was an NCAA Champion, beloved teammate and a Trojan warrior for the USC men’s water polo team. His loss has touched the Trojan Family and the water polo world deeply, and the USC water polo program continues to play with Jon in their hearts. As a first-year freshman 2-meter man, Jon Walters was a key contributor on USC’s 2013 NCAA championship men’s water polo team that won a sixth consecutive NCAA title in December. He scored 17 goals on the year, including two in the NCAA semifinal game and another two in the MPSF championship game, despite missing the middle part of the season with an elbow injury. A native of Newport Beach, he attended Mater Dei High School, where he was an All-American and the 2012 CIF Player of the Year. Jon’s younger brother James is now a sophomore at USC, coming off a freshman campaign that saw the younger Walters earn All-American Honorable Mention in 2014. •