No. 3 Trojans Set To Square Off No. 2 Against Stanford & San Jose State

    Matteo Morelli and the Trojans are home for two MPSF tilts this weekend.
    Sept. 30, 2015

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    Stanford (Semifinal)6
    September 20, 2015
    Palo Alto, Calif.
    San Jose State10
    November 11, 1979
    McDonald's Swim Stadium
    USC gets right back down to business this week as the Trojans set up to host two more MPSF opponents at Uytengsu Aquatics Center. The marquee matchup for the weekend offers up a chance to avenge USC’s only loss of the season. Weeks ago, the Trojans fell to Stanford in the Cardinal’s home pool. This week, Stanford comes to Troy for the teams’ MPSF meeting. No. 3 USC plays host to No. 2 Stanford this Saturday (Oct. 3) in a morning matchup set for 10:30 a.m. and to be televised live on Pac-12 Networks with Jim Watson and Greg Mescall on the call. Then, the Trojans will take on MPSF newcomer San Jose State for another conference bout. USC and the Spartans collide at 1 p.m. on Sunday (Oct. 4) at Uytengsu Aquatics Center.

    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. The Trojans moved to No. 3 in the nation in week three, and remain there as USC enters the fourth week of 2015 competition.




    The No. 2 Cardinal is 12-1 overall after grabbing four wins at the UC Davis Roundup last weekend, beating Santa Clara (18-5), San Jose State (20-7), Concordia (20-3) and UC Davis (18-6). Stanford is led in scoring by Bret Bonanni with 43 goals, while goalie Drew Holland is averaging 11.1 saves and 5.5 goals-against per game. Since 1979, USC is 59-60 all-time against Stanford after that 6-5 loss to the Cardinal in the 2015 Kap7 NorCal Invitational semifinals in Palo Alto two weeks ago. Under head coach Jovan Vavic, however, USC holds a 48-17 against Stanford. Last year, USC lost its MPSF match at Stanford 11-10 and fell 7-4 to the Cardinal in the MPSF Tournament semifinals. In the NCAA semifinals, however, the Trojans pulled off a 12-11 win in sudden death to advance to the NCAA title match for the 10th consecutive season.

    The Spartans are 2-8 overall after going 1-3 at the UC Davis Roundup last weekend, beating Fresno Pacific 10-7 and falling to Stanford (20-5), Cal (17-7) and Santa Clara (16-10). San Jose State is led in scoring by Justin Contreras with 12 goals, while goalie Matej Matijevic is averaging 13.0 saves and 11.70goals-against per game. USC last faced SJSU in 1979, posting a 23-10 win during the regular season that year. The Trojans and the Spartans also face off in the 1972 and 1973 NCAA tournaments, with SJSU winning 19-14 in overtime in 1972 and USC winning 7-5 in the 1973 tourney. San Jose State is in its first year of existence since the university discontinued its men’s water polo program as an intercollegiate sport in 1981 after 46 years.

    USC lit up Uytengsu Aquatics Center in its first home game of the year, punching up a 17-9 win over visiting No. 7 Long Beach State to start MPSF play in winning fashion last weekend. Nick Bell, Grant Stein and Chase Koplow each delivered a hat trick for the Trojan cause as USC kept the 49ers at bay. An early 5-meter penalty shot helped Long Beach State stay even with the Trojans out of the gates, but USC put its foot on the gas soon after. Nick Silvers, Lazar Pasuljevic and Grant Stein each finished of some slick passing series to knock in three goals in a two-minute span to craft a 4-1 advantage. Soon after, McQuin Baron and his stubborn defense squelched a 49er possession, and Koplow promptly drilled a solo shot to the low corner, making it 5-1 in the final minute of the first frame. A late 6-on-5 strike from LBSU snapped the four-goal scoring surge by the Trojans to close the period as a 5-2 USC lead, but the Trojans kept coming in the next stretch. Stein had his hat trick complete just a minute into the second period, taking a pass from fellow sophomore Bryce Hoerman and hammering it home to make it 6-2 Trojans. Mac Carden would go big next, rifling in a power play score that had USC up 7-2, and Matteo Morelli would also get in on the scoring action for USC. The third sophomore to strike in the game, Morelli nabbed a rebound and fired it through. Two minutes later, Bell generated a wicked power move in front of the cage and ripped in the finishing touch to take the Trojans out to a 9-2 lead. The 49ers would get two goals to go around another blast from Bell, and the half closed down with USC up 10-4. Back-to-back USC goals kicked off the third in decisive fashion for the Trojans, who had Mihajlo Milicevic jump on the scoresheet to get USC up 12-4. Long Beach State struck back, only to see Bell finish off a 6-on-5 setup from James Walters on USC’s next possession to make it 13-5 in the third. With the Trojans decidedly in control, USC still found a way to spread the wealth. By the final buzzer, freshman Zach D’Sa had tallied a goal, while Koplow rounded out his hat trick and Pasuljevic pocketed his second. In the final stages of the game, USC redshirt freshman Brock Hudnut zipped in his first career goal as a Trojan, netting USC’s final goal of the game to wrap the 17-9 win.

    Just 11 games into 2015, the Trojans are putting up some big numbers. Led by newcomer Blake Edwards with 31 goals, Matteo Morelli with 21 goals, Mac Carden with 18 and Nick Bell with 17, USC has outscored opponents 222-58. Defensively, USC is allowing just 5.4 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 (20.2 gpg) and No. 3 in defense (5.3 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. Just 11 games into the year, the Trojans’ balanced effort is already apparent, with seven players having scored 15 goals or more to date.

    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. This year is seeing a similar trend as Morelli, Edwards, Stein and Walters have all scored at least 10 goals already in their early sophomore seasons.

    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. Many of those newbies wasted little time getting on the scoresheet, and the trend has continued. Entering this weekend, every one of the aforementioned young guns have scored two goals or more already. In all, eight players who have logged their first career minutes at Trojans this season have scored so far this year.

    USC wound up with a third-place finish at the 2015 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. Chase Koplow and Mac Carden led a group of 15 scorers against Redlands with four and three goals apiece, respectively. Against UC Irvine, Luke Felton was the ringleader with a hat trick. On day one of the event, USC true freshman Nick Lavayen and redshirt freshman Tristan Reinhardt both rang up their first career goals as Trojans. In the semifinal bout against host Stanford, 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. USC got going early in that one, drumming up four goals in the first frame. A largely tightly contested game turned into a relatively lopsided Trojan win as USC worked out of reach of Cal in the fourth. 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.

    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 Trojan.

    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. •