USC Kicks Off 11th Straight NCAA Trip With Play-In Game

    Jovan Vavic has guided the Trojans to the NCAA Tournament for the 11th straight season.
    Nov. 30, 2015

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    THIS WEEK
    USC opens up its 11th consecutive trip to the NCAA Tournament with a play-in game as the Trojans fight for the right to a semifinal spot. USC  (20-6) is in pursuit of an 11th straight appearance in the NCAA title match. But first, USC will need to get through a Thursday (Dec. 3) play-in game against Claremont-Mudd-Scripps (21-7). The Trojans will host that clash at 7 p.m. at Uytengsu Aquatics Center, preceded by a 5 p.m. play-in matchup between UC San Diego and Princeton at the same site.  Winners will advance to face either top-seeded UCLA or No. 2 seed California in the Dec. 5 semifinals at UCLA's Spieker Aquatics Center. That will also be the site for the NCAA Championship and third-place games on Dec. 6.
     
    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.  The Trojans spent two weeks at the No. 3 spot but jumped back up to No. 2 on Oct. 7 and remained there until going to No. 3 on Oct. 28. The Trojans are currently ranked No. 3 in the nation after last week's third-place finish at the MPSF Tournament.
     
    MPSF RECAP
    USC secured its 11th top-three finish in the past 12 seasons at the MPSF Tournament last week, having entered the 2015 tourney as the No. 4 seeded team. The Trojans played host to the 10-team tournament, and opened up with a quarterfinal clash against No. 5 seeded Stanford. Both teams were in must-win situations in order to keep hopes of an NCAA bid alive. For the second time this season, USC would need overtime in order to get past the Cardinal. USC and Stanford were locked up even at 4-4 at halftime. USC neduged ahead by two during the third, but the Cardinal edged closer and would level the game at 6-6 early in the fourth. Both teams defenses were up to the test in the final stretch of regulation, turning the other away at every opportunity to force overtime action. USC came to play in OT once again, this time seeing sophomore Grant Stein deliver up a resounding goal in the first overtime frame for his fourth goal of the game. In the second, the USC defense smothered Stanford, and goalie McQuin Baron provided two huge saves in the last 30 minutes of play to secure victory and tally a career-high 19 saves for the sizable sophomore. The win moved the Trojans into the semifinals against top-seeded UCLA. The Bruins hit the ground running in that one, building a 6-0 lead on the Trojans, who were off-kilter on the offensive end until finally breaking through in the third period. USC managed three second-half goals, and put a stop to UCLA's scoring, but the damage was done as the Bruins held on for a 6-3 victory to take a spot in the final and relegate the Trojans to the third-place game. There, USC was faced with a rematch against Pacific -- this time on the Trojans' home turf. The Tigers had topped the Trojans in Stockton in October and had finished up in second place in the MPSF. USC was all business against the Tigers in this one. After falling behind 2-0, USC made a four-goal rally to power into the lead to stay. An iron-clad performance from McQuin Baron in goal laid the foundation for the USC push to victory, as the sophomore collected 18 saves in the eventual 8-4 win. The groundwork for USC's comeback efforts was also laid by Blake Edwards, who hammered in back-to-back goals to pull the Trojans even at 2-2 in the second period of play. USC officially took control in the third. With Baron holding court in the cage, USC's offense was able to get in a groove. Mihajlo Milicevic rifled in a solo shot to give USC the lead, up 3-2. Again Baron made the block in the cage, and USC was back on the attack. This time, it was freshman Nick Lavayen who took it upon himself to give his team a spark. His ripper gave USC a 4-2 advantage. Seconds later, Pacific broke its silence with a score from the post to make it a one-goal margin. Bryce Hoerman then came through with spin and hammering in an impressive goal to make it 5-3 Trojans. In the fourth, USC just kept clicking. Grant SteinBlake Edwards and Nick Bell each plugged in goals for the Trojan cause before Pacific manage one last blast to round out USC's 8-4 victory for a third-place finish and a performance that all but sewed up a place in the NCAA tournament. 
     
    THE CONTENDERS
    The 2015 National Collegiate Championships follows the same format as was introduced in the 2013 season, with six teams in the mix as opposed to four in past years. The top two seeds earn a place in the semifinal round, where they will await winners of play-in games between the other four teams. USC (20-6) has earned one of two at-large berths into the 2015 NCAA Tournament. No. 2 seed California (23-6) is the other recipient of an at-large berth. The two MPSF teams join a field of automatic qualifiers. Top-seeded UCLA (28-0) captured the MPSF title to take that automatic bid. The other conference champions, meanwhile, will join USC in the play-in stage. UC San Diego (14-13) won the Western Water Polo Association title for the third straight season; Princeton (22-4) claimed the Collegiate Water Polo Association crown; and Claremont-Mudd-Scripps (21-7) is the Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference winner.  While the Trojans are making their 11th straight trip to the tournament, UCSD has made three in a row, defending champion UCLA is making its second consecutive appearance and Cal is back in for the first time since 2010. Claremont last reached the NCAA Tournament in 2012, and Princeton's last trip was 2011.
     
    THE MATCHUPS
    USC vs. Claremont-Mudd-Scripps
    All-time: 10-0
    This season: 1-0
    Last: W 20-5 (Sept. 13, 2015)
    Last in NCAA Tourn.: None
     
    USC vs. UCLA
    All-time: 65-53-1
    This season: 0-3
    Last: L 6-3 (MPSF semi - Nov. 20, 2015)
    Last in NCAA Tourn.: L9-8 (2014 final)
     
    USC vs. California
    All-time: 58-54-2
    This season: 1-1
    Last: L 12-10 (Oct. 31, 2015)
    Last in NCAA Tourn.: W 12-10 (ot) (2010 final)
     
    USC vs. UC San Diego
    All-time: 33-2
    This season: None
    Last: W 17-5 (Sept. 14, 2013)
    Last in NCAA Tourn.: L 9-8 (2000 semi)
     
    USC vs. Princeton
    All-time: 7-0
    This season: None
    Last: W 22-4 (Sept. 28, 2013)
    Last in NCAA Tourn.: W 17-4 (2011 semi)
     
    THIS TIME LAST YEAR
    In 2014, USC scored an at-large berth into the NCAA Tournament, opening up with a play-in game to start off the Trojans' 10th consecutive NCAA journey. It was the first time in 10 trips that the Trojans had not grabbed the top seed in the tourney, but still USC was able to extend its unprecedented streak of trips to the NCAA title match. Entering the 2014 NCAA Tournament, USC held a 22-6 overall record. Defensively, USC was averaging 6.85 goals-against per game, and was averaging 14.3 goals per game on the offensive end. Senior Kostas Genidounias was the Trojans' top scorer with 75 goals. USC's 2014 NCAA roster included nine freshmen, including goalie McQuin Baron, who was averaging 11.02 saves and 6.85 goals-against per game entering the tourney. Overall, USC had outscored opponents 400-189, with a grand total of 12 Trojans with at least 15 goals apiece. USC opened the 2014 NCAA Tournament with a 19-4 win over Whittier in the Play-in game at USC. Then the Trojans headed to La Jolla for a semifinal clash against No. 2 seeded Stanford. The teams would battle it out through overtime and into sudden death, where Genidounias rifled in the game-winner for a 12-11 victory that sent the Trojans into the NCAA final for the 10th consecutive season. USC was defending a historic run of sixth straight national championships, but the Trojans would come up just short of extending that streak. Top-seeded UCLA was able to fend off the Trojans with a 9-8 decision in the title match. At tournament's end, Genidounias and fellow senior Rex Butler were named to the NCAA All-Tournament First Team, while Baron, Nick Bell and Mihajlo Milicevic were selected to the NCAA All-Tournament Second Team.
     
    AND NOW...
    USC holds a 20-6 overall record entering the 2015 National Collegiate Championships. After a third-place finish in the MPSF Tournament, USC snagged one of the two at-large berths into this year's tourney. The NCAA title winners in 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2013, the Trojans are making their 11th consecutive and 30th overall appearance in the national tournament. With seven crowns claimed in the past 10 seasons, USC made history in 2012 as the first collegiate men's water polo team to make eight consecutive appearances and then added to their historic efforts in becoming the first collegiate water polo team ever to win six straight NCAA titles last season in 2013. For the second time in 10 seasons, USC is not the No. 1 seed in the tournament. Offensively, USC is averaging 14.0 goals per game to date. Defensively, USC averages 6.1 goals-against per game. This year's offense is led by junior newcomer Blake Edwards with 63 goals, followed by a set of high-powered sophomores making a splash in their second seasons at Troy. Grant Stein has scored 41 goals to date, followed by Lachlan Edwards' 33 and 30 from Matteo Morelli. To date, USC has outscored opponents 364-158. Defensively, USC is allowing just 6.1 goals per game and has held opponents scoreless in 18 periods of regulation play so far. Sophomore goalie McQuin Baron -- who now ranks No. 7 all-time in career saves at USC (534) -- has capped up in the cage for every game and is averaging 10.7 saves per game. USC ranks No. 2 in the MPSF in offense (14.0 gpg) and No. 2 in defense (6.08 gapg).
     
    FAMILY TIES
    The Trojan roster boasts a lot of brotherly love this season. Three 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 96 goals to date. The Silvers brothers (Andrew & Nick) have produced 18 goals. The Leong brothers (Tim and Daniel) also combine forces on the 2015 roster this year. Four more Trojans are capped up for USC just as their older siblings have done. James Walters (brother Jon), Grant Stein (sister Michelle), Nick Lavayen (sister Stephanie and brother Alex) and Murphy Slater (sister Melanie) have all followed their family trees to Troy.
     
    BLAKE TOPS THE CHARTS
    For the first time in a couple years, the USC scoring record seems to be safe. In 2013 and 2014, the Trojans saw the program scoring record broken -- first by Nikola Vavic in 2013 and then by Kostas Genidounias in 2014. And yet still, this season USC does have a standout Trojan making noise similar to that of his USC top guns predecessors. Transfer Blake Edwards leads the Trojans with 63 goals through 26 games this year, which is the 18th most goals scored by a Trojan in a single season. Edwards, Vavic and Genidounias are the only Trojans to score 58 or more goals in a single season since Juraj Zatovic finished with 68 in 2005. Edwards may only have two seasons to compete at USC, but his scoring prowess has certainly helped USC make up ground on the scoring front in 2015. He ranks No. 2 in the MPSF in scoring with 2.42 goals per game.
     
    HISTORY REPEATING
    With only two seniors on the roster this season, the Trojans have a large set of younger players flying under the radar this season, as no returning Trojan came into the season with more than 43 career goals. The last time that USC had a similar makeup  was 2010, according to head coach Jovan 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. Now entering another heated postseason push, the Trojans' balanced effort remains apparent, with 11 players having scored 15 goals or more, and with USC's top five scorers accounting for over half the Trojans' offensive output.
     
    YOUTH MOVEMENT
    In 2014, USC had a whopping nine freshmen on the roster for the NCAA Tournament. Three of those true freshmen earned All-American status last season and are back for more along with fellow All-American junior Nick BellMihajlo MilicevicJames 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's joined once again in leading USC's goalkeeping corps with sophomore Ben Goncharenko. USC's depth charge runs deeper as one takes into account the likes of sophomores Lachlan EdwardsBryce HoermanMatteo MorelliLazar 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 Edwards (33 goals) and Stein (41) have already bettered or matched those scoring marks. Morelli (30) and Walters (19) are also factoring in heavily again to the Trojan offensive onslaught in their sophomore seasons.
     
    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'SaNick Lavayen and Nick Silvers are all locked in for their first trips to the NCAA Tournament. Redshirt freshman Chase Koplow also is set to make his debut on USC's NCAA roster this week. Lavayen and Koplow both rang up goals during the MPSF Tournament. Together, the four young Trojans have combined to produce 51 goals for the USC offense to date.
     
    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 are 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 BaronMihajlo 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.
     
    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 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. 
     
    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. •
    THE LAST MEETING
    USC20  
    Claremont-Mudd-Scripps20(5)
    September 13, 2015
    La Verne, Calif.
    No. 2 USC Whips Up Two More Wins At Inland Empire Classic
    The No. 2 USC men's water polo team kept its undefeated start to 2015 solidly intact with a pair of dominant wins on the second day of action at the Inland Empire Classic. The Trojans powered up with a 23-2 win over host La Verne to start the day before topping Claremont-Mudd-Scripps 20-5 to wrap up the competition. USC now holds a 6-0 overall record.