No. 3 USC Hosts No. 7 Long Beach State Under The Lights

    Join the Trojans for some after-hours water polo at Uytengsu on Saturday night!
    Sept. 23, 2015

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    THIS WEEK
    The No. 3 USC men’s water polo team sets up camp at its own Uytengsu Aquatics Center this weekend to start a stretch of three straight home contests. The Trojans (9-1) will host No. 7 Long Beach State (4-4) in both teams’ MPSF opener on Saturday (Sept. 26) under the lights at USC’s home pool. The Trojans and 49ers kick off conference action at 7 p.m. that night in a game that will be televised on Pac-12 Networks. Jim Watson and Greg Mescall will be on the call for the match.

    THE LAST MEETING
    USC13
    Long Beach State7
    November 8, 2014
    Long Beach, Calif.
    No. 3 USC Swamps No. 4 Long Beach State 13-7
    The No. 3 USC men's water polo team ripped its way out of reach of No. 4 host Long Beach State today as senior Rex Butler plunked in three of his final five goals during a six-goal surge by the Trojans. That rally left the 49ers in the Trojans' wake, and USC stayed in control for an eventual 13-7 victory. The win improves USC's overall record to 19-4 and takes the Trojans to a 4-2 MPSF mark.

    RANKINGS
    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 fourth week of 2015 competition, the Trojans have moved to No. 3 in the nation.

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    SCOUTING LONG BEACH STATE
    The No. 7 ranked 49ers are 4-4 overall entering this week’s MPSF opener at USC. Long Beach State is coming off a sixth-place finish as last weekend’s NorCal Invitational, where the 49ers opened with an 11-6 win over UC San Diego before falling to host Stanford 11-4 in group play. They’d go on to beat UC Irvine 12-11 in sudden death to move into the fifth-place game, but fell 8-7 to UC Santa Barbara in that one. Dimitros Lappas leads LBSU in scoring with 12 goals to date, while goalie Pavo Ljepopio is averaging 10.0 saves and 7.75 goals-against per game. USC is 64-15 all-time against Long Beach State in a series dating back to 1979. The Trojans have won the past 25 consecutive meetings against the 49ers. Last year, USC beat Long Beach State 13-7 in their MPSF meeting in Long Beach.

    LAST WEEK
    USC wound up with a third-place finish at last weekend’s Kap7 NorCal Invitational in Palo Alto. The Trojans pinned up two big wins in group play, beating Redlands 27-3 and then topping UC Irvine 12-4 to advance to Sunday’s semifinals. There, the Trojans clashed with host Stanford, falling behind the Cardinal before making a comeback push to make a game of it. Still, Stanford was able to hang on for a 6-5 victory to relegate the Trojans to the third-place match. In that one, USC kept California at bay and powered on for a 12-9 victory over the Bears to claim third at the tourney. The Trojans kicked off the event with a morning session against Redlands, scoring the first 19 goals of the game as USC charged out to a 19-0 lead. USC spread the wealth handily in that one, with redshirt freshman Chase Koplow leading the charge. Koplow set his career high with four goals tallied -- all in the third period of play. Mac Carden was next in line with a hat trick coming from the redshirt senior captain. By the time the horn sounded on a 27-3 victory for USC, 15 different Trojans had struck the back of the net in the win, including the first career goal for freshman Nick Lavayen. That win advanced the Trojans into an afternoon clash against No. 8 UC Irvine. There, the Trojans stayed strong and forced their way to a 6-1 lead after the first eight minutes of action on scores from six different players. In the final frame, USC silenced the Anteaters while plugging in four goals of its own to wrap the day’s action with a 12-4 win, led by a hat trick from Luke Felton and 14 saves in the cage from McQuin Baron. In the semifinal bout against host Stanford, USC’s high-powered offense sputtered for the first time this season. Both defenses were stingy throughout, but it was the Cardinal that proved most potent in the first half. USC was unable to break through until midway through the third period of play. Stanford had grabbed a 3-0 lead at halftime while USC’s offense struggled to take shape. In the third, USC’s Blake Edwards helped the Trojans find their scoring touch in getting the Trojans on the board. In the fourth, Edwards netted the equalizer at 4-4 for the Trojans with 4:45 on the clock, only to see Stanford bump back ahead on its very next possession. Two minutes later, USC was back in a two-goal hole, trailing 6-4 with 2:12 to go. Cue Edwards once more. The Aussie newcomer sliced in his third of the day to cut it to a one-goal margin again, but the Trojans were unable to crack the Cardinal in the remaining time. That left the Trojans with a 6-5 loss -- their first of the year -- to move into the evening’s third-place game against Cal. The Trojans found their scoring touch early in that one, drumming up four goals in the first frame alone. A tight first half gave way to a relatively lopsided Trojan win as USC worked out of reach of the Golden Bears in the fourth period of play. An 8-7 USC lead entering the final frame ballooned to 11-7 with goals from James Walters and the brothers Edwards next. McQuin Baron continued to loom large in the cage to keep the Bears at bay as USC wrapped up a 12-9 final victory over Cal to end the day in third place at the NorCal Invite.

    BY THE NUMBERS
    Just 10 games into 2015, the Trojans are putting up some big numbers. Led by newcomer Blake Edwards with 31 goals, Matteo Morelli with 20 goals, Mac Carden with 17 and Lachlan Edwards with 16, USC has outscored opponents 205-49. Defensively, USC is allowing just 4.9 goals per game and has held opponents scoreless in eight periods of regulation play so far. In these early stages of the year, USC currently ranks No. 1 in the MPSF in offense (20.5 gpg) and No. 3 in defense (4.9 gapg).

    2015 TROJANS AT A GLANCE
    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.

    BALANCE IS BEST
    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.

    YOUTH MOVEMENT
    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, 33 from Stein and 31 from Edwards.

    FRESH FACES
    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.

    QUALIFIED!
    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.

    FIGHTING ON FOR JON
    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. •