No. 2 USC Moves Back North For Mountain Pacific Invitational

    Sept. 21, 2016

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    USC rolls right back up to Northern California this week, packing up its 6-0 overall record to dig into tournament action at the Mountain Pacific Invitational in Berkeley. The three-day event has the No. 2 Trojans grouped with No. 19 Santa Clara, No. 7 Long Beach State and No. 11 UC Davis. At 1 p.m. on Friday (Sept. 23) USC opens things up against the Broncos. A win there would put USC up against the 49er-Aggie winner at 10:50 a.m. on Saturday (Sept. 23) to fight for a spot in a 6 p.m. semifinal that evening. Placement games will take place on Sunday (Sept. 24) with the championships set for 2:30 p.m. preceded by a 1 p.m. third-place game.

    Santa Clara5
    October 12, 1996
    Stockton, Calif. (Northern California Tournament)
    Long Beach City College6
    September 26, 2009
    McDonald's Swim Stadium
    USC opened the 2016 season in the same place it left off last season, holding strong at No. 2 in the nation after making 11 straight trips to the NCAA final and having claimed seven national championships during that run. The Trojans remain tabbed as the No. 2 team in the land in this week’s rankings for the fourth straight week.

    USC rang up a key MPSF win while also snagging head coach Jovan Vavic’s 500th career victory at the helm of the USC men’s program with a 8-4 decision at Stanford last weekend. The Trojans made a solid defensive stand at the Cardinal’s home pool, shutting out their hosts in the first and third periods to help lock in on the road win. With junior goalie McQuin Baron manning the cage, the USC defense reigned supreme once again and turned away every one of Stanford’s numerous 6-on-5 opportunities. For the first time in this early stretch of the season, USC allowed more than three goals, but Stanford’s four-goal effort was nowhere near enough to keep pace with the Trojan firepower. Juniors Grant Stein and Blake Edwards tallied a pair of goals apiece and fellow junior James Walters also zipped in a big goal to keep their Trojans on a path to victory while three USC newcomers tallied their first MPSF goals to help the Trojan cause. Freshmen Thomas Dunstan, Marin Dasic and Matt Maier each punched up scores, with Maier’s fourth-quarter strike carried USC to a four-goal advantage over the Cardinal. The Trojans opened the day’s action with authority, sending an early message to their hosts in pinning up a 3-0 advantage in the first period of play. Faced with back-to-back Stanford power plays, USC’s defense responded with a Mrin Dasic field block and then a save from Baron. Soon after, Edwards found Stein for a left-handed ripper that lit the fuse for the USC offense. A minute later, Dunstan issued a blast that made it 2-0 Trojans, and after Baron shut down another Stanford 6-on-5 it was Edwards who let fly a nearside bar-in blast to make it 3-0. Stein would throw up a field block against Stanford’s final power play chance of the first, and USC’s 3-0 advantage was intact going into the second. Stanford would break its silence with back-to-back scores, first off a USC defender’s deflection and then with a tip-in from the post. Next, though, Bryce Hoerman fed Dasic for a crosscage skipper that padded out the USC lead to 4-2. That score would hold through to halftime, and a defensive statement ensued in the third. It wasn’t until the final minute of the third that USC was able to solve the Stanford defense with a nifty Walters rocket out of set off an Edwards setup. That made it 5-2 Trojans as the USC defense claimed a third-period shutout of the Cardinal. In the final frame, Baron collected another saves against yet another Stanford 6-on-5. That stop was followed by a Stein cross to freshman Maier, who pounced on his opportunity at the post to tug the Trojans to a four-goal lead, up 6-2 early in the fourth. Stanford would break a scoreless drought of over 14 minutes after being awarded a 5-meter penalty shot, making it 6-3 USC with just under six minutes left to play. After Nick Bell earned a 6-on-5 for the Trojans — their first of the second half — Stein struck once again to take USC ahead 7-3. The Cardinal would tally one more goal in the next stretch, only to see Edwards collect his own rebound off a Stanford save and find a finishing touch from close range to close out the game as an 8-4 USC victory.

    This is the first edition of the Mountain Pacific Invitational, spreads the 16-team competition across three days with Cal set as this year’s host. The field includes two out-of-state opponents in Princeton and Air Force, while the rest of the teams hail from all around California. Four MPSF teams — Cal, USC, Stanford and UCLA — are in the mix, along with Pacific, UC Santa Barbara, Long Beach State, Pepperdine, UC Irvine, UC Davis, San Jose State, Whittier, Santa Clara and Pomona-Pitzer. All told, the top eight ranked teams in the nation will be in the mix, with 13 total teams ranked in the top-20.

    The first Trojan to capture MPSF Player of the Week honors this season was junior 2-meter man Lachlan Edwards, who picked up the award on Sept. 12 for his work in three USC wins the previous week. Edwards had a team-high three goals in USC’s 14-3 win over No. 6 UC Santa Barbara in the Trojans’ home opener. The next day at the Inland Empire Classic, Edwards again led USC with four goals scored in a 27-3 win over Whittier and then added four more in USC’s 26-1 win over La Verne. After his 11-goal weekend, Edwards now stands as USC’s second leading scorer with 12 goals for the 5-0 Trojans. It was the first MPSF weekly award for Edwards at USC.

    USC head coach Jovan Vavic is closing in fast on his 500th career victory at the helm of the USC men’s program. The Trojans’ 5-0 start to the 2016 season now has Vavic gripping 499 career wins. If USC stays in winning mode through this early stretch of the season, the Trojans could capture number 500 for Vavic on Sept. 17 at Stanford. Coincidentally, Vavic’s 500th career win as the USC women’s head coach came last season in a win over Stanford — a 7-6 victory in the semifinals of the 2016 UCI Invitational.

    Just six games into 2016, the Trojans are pinning up some powerful numbers. Led by 13 goals from junior Matteo Morelli and 12 from fellow junior Lachlan Edwards, the USC offense has clicked off 105 goals to date. Defensively, the Trojans have allowed no more than four goals in any game, while shutting out opponents in 13 periods, including second-half shutouts against Whittier and La Verne. In all, USC has outscored opponents 105-17. Goalie McQuin Baron has capped up in the cage in five of those wins and is averaging 8.7 saves and just 2.9 goals-against per game. USC currently ranks No. 1 in the MPSF in offense (17.5 gpg) and in defense (2.83 gapg).

    For this 2016 season, USC welcomes back every one of its eight All-Americans, and only one of them — Nick Bell — is a senior. That means firepower, experience and daunting skill is available at every turn for the Trojans. In all, USC returns its top six scorers from 2015, including All-American honorees Blake Edwards, Grant Stein, Lachlan Edwards, Matteo Morelli and Bell, while defensive dangers Mihajlo Milicevic and James Walters and newly inked Olympian McQuin Baron also bring back their All-American talent to Troy for 2016. That crew of returning All-Americans accounted for 64 percent of USC’s offensive output. Top scorer Blake Edwards scored 68 goals all on his own, tallying the sixth most single-season goals scored by a Trojan.

    For the first time since 1958, USC has a roster studded with two returning Olympians. Junior McQuin Baron and freshman Thomas Dunstan both earned themselves trips to Rio de Janeiro last month as members of the United States Olympic Team. At those 2016 Games, Baron and Dunstan got to rub elbows with two Trojan greats — USC’s all-time top scorer Kostas Genidounias capped up for Greece, while USC’s all-time leader in saves Joel Dennerley was between the pipes once again for Australia.

    In his first season at Troy, Blake Edwards was USC’s top scorer. Now in his second season as a Trojan, he is a member of a ridiculously talented junior class. Fellow All-Americans Grant Stein, Matteo Morelli, James Walters, Mihajlo Milicevic and Lachlan Edwards are all now juniors, as are savvy scorers Bryce Hoerman and Lazar Pasuljevic. In fact, USC’s top four scorers in 2015 are all also classmates: the Edwards brothers, Stein and Morelli.

    USC’s youth movement remains solid. In their first season of work as Trojans, Chase Koplow and Zach D’Sa combined for 32 goals last year, and both were members of USC’s 2015 NCAA Tournament roster. That vital early experience should pay dividends for the Trojans, who have all but two members of that tournament roster back on active duty for 2016. USC’s seasoned veterans will be bolstered by a group of talented new Trojans. Clearly, 2016 Olympian Thomas Dunstan already brings in some serious credentials for his freshman campaign, but there are several other USC newcomers tabbed for duty in 2016 along with a few Trojans who redshirted last season. True freshmen Marin Dasic and Matt Maier will also factor into the USC gameplan, while redshirt freshmen Sam Slobodien and Daniel Leong join the field along with goalie Simon Wu, who will back up Baron in the cage along with freshman Will Rubschlager. Even more reliable talent in the Trojan pool comes in the form of redshirt junior Mitch Embrey, redshirt sophomores Tim Leong, Brock Hudnut and Murphy Slater, and redshirt freshman Daniel Leong, who round out the USC active roster for 2016.

    The Trojan roster boasts a lot of brotherly love this season. Two sets of brothers are in the mix, with four other brothers following in the footsteps of Trojan siblings. The Edwards brothers -(Blake & Lachlan) could be considered the bash brothers of the bunch, having combined for 85 goals to date. The Leong brothers (Tim and Daniel) also combine forces on the 2016 roster this year as a redshirt sophomore and freshman, respectively Four more Trojans are capped up for USC just as their older siblings have done. James Walters (brother Jon), Grant Stein (sister Michelle), Nick Silvers (sister Chelsea and brother Andrew) and Murphy Slater (sister Melanie) have all followed their family trees to Troy.

    The Mountain Pacific Sports Federation has a new look this season, as six teams departed the conference to start their own new league. Now, the MPSF men’s water polo field is a five-team group that includes veterans Cal, Stanford, UCLA and USC and welcomes newcomer Penn State Behrend for the 2016 season. PSB will see its first official action against its MPSF-mates at the conference championship tournament in Westwood Nov. 18-20.

    2015 RECAP
    USC rolled up another impressive run to the NCAA final in 2015 — the Trojans’ 11th consecutive trip to the title match — and finished up the season with a 22-7 overall record. USC posted a 6-3 record in MPSF play to snag the No. 4 seed into the conference tournament, where the Trojans were under pressure to perform in order to continue its NCAA tournament streak. A tense 7-6 overtime win over Stanford in the opening round was the first key. And after a loss to top-seeded UCLA in the semifinals, USC faced a must-win third-place matchup against No. 2 seeded Pacific. The Trojans were all business in that one, topping the Tigers decisively 8-4. That was crucial in earning USC a place in the NCAA tournament, scoring a place in the play-in game, which the Trojans won handily. USC followed that with a solid 9-6 win over Cal in the NCAA semis to earn a championship rematch with UCLA. The host Bruins were able to hold off the Trojans in that one with a 10-7 decision in the title match. USC would go on to place a whopping eight Trojans on the All-America list — all of whom return for this 2016 campaign. Blake Edwards picked up first team honors in his first season as a Trojan, scoring 68 goals to lead USC on the scoresheet in 2015. In all, the USC offense — with 21 different scorers — averaged 13.8 goals per game. while the defense allowed 6.2 goals against per game. By the close of the year, USC had outscored opponents 400-179.

    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 junior at USC, coming off two seasons in which the younger Walters earn All-American Honorable Mention. •