No. 3 USC Concludes Regular Season With Huge Home Clash vs. No. 5 Cal

    Max Hurst-Mendoza and his fellow seniors will be playing their final game at Uytengsu Aquatics Center on Saturday.
    Nov. 12, 2014

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    No. 3 USC (20-4, 5-2 MPSF) is locked in on its regular-season finale, coming fast to Uytengsu Aquatics Center this weekend. The Trojans can get a great boost in the MPSF standings and in the postseason race if they are able to take No. 5 California (20-5, 4-3) down a notch. After a Senior Day ceremony to honor the Trojans' four graduating seniors -- Rex Butler, Kostas Genidounias, Max Hurst-Mendoza and Marc Vonderweidt -- USC will splash down for a big test against the Golden Bears at 10:30 a.m. on Saturday (Nov. 15). The Pac-12 Networks will be on-hand for the televised broadcast of the game, with Greg Mescall and Jim Watson on the call.

    California (Championship)9
    October 12, 2014
    Westwood, Calif.
    Trojans Take It All, Win Another SoCal Tournament Championship
    The No. 4 USC men's water polo team exacted some revenge today in a victorious surge to greatness once again at the SoCal Tournament. The Trojans' third straight title at the tourney was capped off by a ferocious finish for a 10-9 upset of No. 3 California. The Bears had gotten the better of the Trojans when the teams met last month during the NorCal Tournament, but USC was stalwart in this one and ready for vengeance. The Trojans had opened the day with revenge on the mind as they upended top-ranked UCLA in the Bruins own pool for a 10-6 semifinal victory. Up against the Bears in the title match, USC shrugged off Cal's attempt to force overtime, netting the eventual winner on a score from Mac Carden to seal the championship victory in Westwood. USC now holds a 16-2 overall record on the year.

    The six-time defending NCAA champion Trojans entered 2014 ranked No. 2 in the nation in the preseason poll. USC moved to No. 3 for the next two weeks, and was at No. 4 for three weeks. The Trojans worked back to the No. 1 slot for the week of Oct. 13, but have been placed at No. 3 in the past three national polls.

    The No. 5 Golden Bears are 20-5 overall and 4-3 in MPSF play after an 11-9 loss to Stanford last week. Aleksa Saponjic leads Cal in scoring with 2.36 goals per game. Goalie Jon Sibley is averaging 9.2 saves and 9.2 goals against per game. USC is 56-53-2 all-time against Cal after a split to far this season. Cal beat USC 11-10 in the third-place game at the KAP7 NorCal Classic in September, and the Trojans returned the favor with a 10-9 in over the Bears in the championship game at the SoCal Tournament in October. Last year, USC beat Cal 11-9 in MPSF play and then 12-9 in the first round of the 2013 MPSF Tournament.

    USC created some crucial space in the MPSF standings with two important conference victories last weekend. On the road for back-to-back games, the Trojans collected a 13-7 win over No. 4 Long Beach State and then a 14-10 win over No. 12 UC Irvine. Against the 49ers, USC ripped its way out of reach 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 49ers would snap their eight-plus minutes of scoring silence with a lob shot, but USC had the last words of the half with McQuin Baron collecting a save and James Walters rocketing in a goal to make it 8-3 USC at the break. Butler led all scorers with five goals, with Matteo Morelli adding a hat trick to help pace the Trojans. Goalie Baron finished up with 13 saves for the USC defense. The next day at UC Irvine, USC whipped up a 14-10 victory in a big day for Baron, who slammed down 18 saves in backing up the Trojan defense. Fellow freshman Bryce Hoerman also topped the USC offensive charge with a hat trick to help pace the Trojans to victory. The game was tight through the first 10 minutes of action, with UC Irvine hanging tough in closing in on a 4-2 USC lead and equalizing at 4-4 early in the second period of play. Back-to-back strikes from the hands of Trojans Marc Vonderweidt and Morelli padded the USC advantage back to two, only to see the Anteaters cut it back to a one-goal game. USC would take control soon after, though. The Trojans opened up a more comfortable lead with a four-goal scoring surge that spanned halftime and created winning momentum en route to the final 14-10 road win.

    Freshman goalie McQuin Baron hauled in 31 saves across two MPSF wins by the Trojans last weekend, going big with a new career best of 18 saves at UC Irvine. For his efforts in the cage for the Trojan cause, Baron was named the MPSF Player of the Week on Nov. 10. Baron began the important weekend of conference play with a 13-save outing in a 13-7 road win over #4 Long Beach State. That set the freshman up well for an even bigger 18-save day in which he allowed seven goals in just under four periods of work in an eventual 14-10 road win over #12 UC Irvine. #3 USC improved to 20-4 overall and to 5-2 in MPSF play with the winning weekend. With the first conference honor of his career, Baron becomes the second Trojan to be named MPSF Player of the Week this season, following sophomore Nick Bell's selection last month.

    Sophomore Nick Bell had a career weekend in helping USC win the SoCal Tournament championship, totaling 10 goals over the four Trojan victories over that weekend. For his standout performance, Bell earned his first career selection as the MPSF Player of the Week on Oct. 13, becoming the first Trojan to win the award this year. In just his second game back from injury, Bell delivered his first career hat trick in USC's opening win over Air Force. He'd tally another goal in USC's next win over UC Santa Barbara. The following day, Bell went even bigger. The sophomore punched in four goals in USC's semifinal upset of host UCLA to mark a new career high for himself and set up his Trojans for the title match. There, Bell added two more goals to help USC edge out Cal 10-9 and win the Trojans' third straight SoCal Tournament crown. With 18 goals scored in his nine appearances, Bell is currently averaging 2.0 goals per game for the Trojan cause.

    Before anyone gets too anxious about the back-to-back losses sustained by the Trojans at the NorCal Tournament, rest assured that USC has fought back from similar stumbles in recent seasons, all the while continuing to build on its historic NCAA championship win streak. Back in 2011, USC lost two in a row as it stumbled to a fourth-place finish at the SoCal Tournament. The Trojans would regroup, however, avenging both those losses and powering on to win a fourth consecutive national championship. Last week's loss to Cal snapped a six-game win streak against the Golden Bears, who last beat the Trojans in 2010 during MPSF play -- a 12-9 decision in Cal's favor. That same season, though, saw USC avenge that loss in the finest of forms. The Trojans would beat the Bears in overtime at Cal's own pool to claim the 2010 NCAA Championship -- USC's third straight title. In four of USC's nine championship season, the Trojans have taken three or more total losses.

    Now 24 games into 2014, the Trojans have been putting up some big numbers. Led by Kostas Genidounias with 67 goals, Rex Butler with 39 and Matteo Morelli with 32, there are a grand total of 12 Trojans with at least 15 goals apiece. Six of them are freshmen and four are seniors, exhibiting some dangerous balance for USC. To date, USC has outscored opponents 372-161 -- more than double its foes' scoring count to date. Defensively, USC is allowing just 6.71 goals per game, having held opponents scoreless in the third quarter in seven games.

    Three-time All-American senior Kostas Genidounias has been on the rise in the USC scoring ranks throughout his time at Troy. Named the 2014 KAP7 NorCal Classic MVP last month, he's the Trojans' top scorer this season with 67 goals to date, giving him 246 in his career to take sole possession of No. 2 all-time in career scoring. Nikola Vavic stands at No. 1 with 254 career goals. That puts Genidounias eight goals from taking over the top spot. Stay tuned!

    USC's NCAA championship streak began while this incoming freshman class was still in middle school. So although the 2014 Trojan newcomers haven't experienced winning a national championship firsthand -- yet -- they certainly are familiar with the culture of winning that has been built at Troy. Every other member of the USC roster has at least one national championship ring in his trophy case. The senior class of four Trojans, meanwhile, have played in a combined eight NCAA Tournaments in the past three seasons. Three of those seniors -- Rex Butler, Kostas Genidounias and Marc Vonderweidt -- have experience from USC's 2012 and 2013 title matches. That trio, along with Nick Bell, Mac Carden and Max Hurst-Mendoza all combined forces for USC in last season's championship victory. To be sure, USC's championship savvy is still very much in effect.

    Everybody was calling it a "rebuilding year." Everybody, that is, except USC head coach Jovan Vavic. His group of 22 newcomers for 2014 looks to be built to last. Nine of those freshmen have already logged some serious minutes in the early goings of the 2014 season. Team USA goalie McQuin Baron has the starting nod in the cage, but he's not the only newcomer with experience in international waters. Four players from four different countries have arrived from overseas to join the Trojans this year. Australian National Teamer Lachlan Edwards is posting up for the Trojans, following in the footsteps of another Aussie two-meter man -- All-American Jeremy Davie, who played four years and won four titles as a Trojan. Mihajlo Milicevic comes to Troy from Serbia; Lazar Pasuljevic hails from Montenegro; and Matteo Morelli joins the Trojans from Italy. Adding to the depth charge in the new class are a set of solid stars from more local waters. In addition to goalies Baron and Ben Goncharenko, California has produced some mighty field players to bolster the Trojan cause. Bryce Hoerman, Grant Stein and James Walters headline that crew, which offers up some impressive flexibility and skill in which Vavic already has early confidence. In all, seven USC freshmen have combined for 172 total goals to date, while the entirety of the goalkeeping duties has been handled by freshmen Baron and Goncharenko.

    USC has played in the NCAA championship game 10 times in the past 11 years. Eight national titles have come during that span. But it isn't just a place in another final that USC is aiming for. No, for 2014 the Trojans once again have just one mission. USC has won six consecutive titles, and making it seven in a row would also bring the men's program its 10th national championship.

    Seniors Kostas Genidounias and Rex Butler represent a potent one-two punch for the Trojans. The righty-lefty duo give USC dangerous scoring options from both sides of the pool, and they've been effective in their Trojan careers to date. Genidounias whipped in 80 goals (third most in program history) for USC last season as a junior, giving him a career count of 179 to rank him No. 4 all-time entering 2014. Butler scored 40 goals last year, giving him 69 overall as he pursues a spot in the 100-goal club by the close of his Trojan career. That pair stands out as USC's top returning scorers, but Nick Bell, Mac Carden and Marc Vonderweidt have also proven to pack some scoring punch of their own. All three scored 18 goals apiece last season. This year, Bell was sidelined for the first 11 games but has jumped right back in full force. Bell, Carden and USC's senior crew of Butler, Genidounias, Max Hurst-Mendoza and Vonderweidt have combined for 176 goals to date. What's more, Butler recently nailed his 100th career goal, becoming the 32nd Trojan to hit the mark. He just took over at No. 29 all-time with 108 goals to beat out current associate head coach Marko Pintaric, who scored 103 career goals in his Trojan career.

    The only position dominated wholly by freshmen is in the cage-- previously occupied by Olympians Joel Dennerley and James Clark for the past six seasons. And yet coach Vavic is as confident in his goalies as anywhere else. McQuin Baron looms large as the starter, bringing in his 6-foot-9-inch frame fresh from a summer of experience with the U.S National Team. Fellow freshman Ben Goncharenko also has proven his worth handily. USC has been in capable hands with Goncharenko as a backup and as a starter. He boasts a complete shutout of Occidental, and averages 5.5 saves and 4.8 goals-against per game in his nine appearances. Baron, meanwhile, has capped up in 21 games, hauling in 11.3 saves per game and allowing 6.9 goals-against per game.

    2013 RECAP
    USC became the first collegiate water polo team ever to win six consecutive national championships when the Trojans finished off their 2013 campaign with five straight wins, claiming the MPSF Championship before making a victorious run to win the 2013 NCAA Championship. An overtime win over Pacific in the title match notched a 28-4 overall record for the Trojans while grabbing the program's ninth national crown. Senior Nikola Vavic finished his career as USC's all-time leading scorer, was named National Player of the Year and was again a finalist for the Cutino Award. Kostas Genidounias, too, was named a Cutino Award finalist, and was one of six All-Americans from the 2013 season along with Vavic, James Clark, Jeremy Davie, Mace Rapsey and Connor Virjee. In all, the Trojan offense -- charged by 21 different scorers -- averaged 15.3 goals per game, while the defense allowed 6.7 goals against per game. USC outscored opponents 490-213 in 2013, marking the most goals scored in a year by the Trojans since at least 1983.

    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 will be playing with Jon in their hearts this season and beyond. 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 a freshman on this 2014 USC team. •