The No. 4 USC men’s water polo team has maintained its swagger throughout the offseason.
The Trojans opened their season by outscoring opponents 53-5 in a one-sided shootout this weekend at the UCI Invitational in Irvine, Calif. Eighteen different Trojans scored in the two-day blowout, eight of whom recorded hat tricks, while seven freshmen found the net in their first collegiate appearances.
“The tournament went really well,” said redshirt sophomore driver Michael Rosenthal. “We played a couple of Division III teams that weren’t quite as strong, but it was a good way to start the season off. It was good to get our momentum going and set the tone for the rest of the season.”
The two-time defending national champions got the ball rolling early Saturday with a 23-3 bashing of Redlands, racing to an 11-3 halftime lead and shutting out the Bulldogs in the second half. Rosenthal led all scorers with four goals, and redshirt freshman driver Stephen Siri tacked on three more in his first match as a Trojan. Freshman driver Tobias Preuss and freshman utility Mace Rapsey followed suit with two goals apiece, while drivers Nikola Vavic and Rex Butler rounded out scoring for the freshman class.
“The freshmen this year have been doing really well so far,” Rosenthal said. “We lost a lot of guys last year to graduation, and these guys are definitely coming in and filling those roles and contributing already.”
The floundering Bulldog defense was underplayed only by an uninspired offensive unit that managed just three goals in four quarters of play, thanks in large part to Will Simon’s work in net. The redshirt sophomore goalie stepped in for junior Joey Dennerley at the half and racked up four saves to secure a second-half shutout, while USC added nine goals at the other end in the final period.
The Trojans were no more sympathetic with Whittier on Sunday, blasting the Poets with 30 goals in USC’s most lopsided victory in over 15 years. Redshirt sophomore goalie Jimmy Friedrich and Dennerley allowed just one goal apiece while freshmen two-meters Jeremy Davie and Max Hurst-Mendoza, along with Rapsey and Vavic, each earned a hat trick in their first NCAA appearances.
“We started out okay, maybe a little slow,” said redshirt sophomore two-meter Zayne Belal. “But by the end of the tournament, we picked it up and figured stuff out. We gelled a lot better.”
A young Trojan lineup did it’s best to silence any questions about the team’s seeming inexperience after losing eight seniors from last year’s national championship squad. Despite listing just five upperclassmen on the roster and no seniors, the Trojans played a disciplined tournament, improving on last year’s defensive average of 5.5 goals allowed per game while pounding the opponent’s cages with all the earnest excitement of a first collegiate match.
And although the team’s experience might have dipped this year, their goals certainly have not.
“Our expectations have never changed,” Rosenthal said. “Every year we expect to win, this year’s no different. We know we’re a young team, but we have a lot of other strengths.”
The Trojans, who open the season 2-0 for the 16th consecutive season, start regular season play against Long Beach State Saturday in McDonald’s Swim Stadium.
“It’s going to be a brawl,” Belal said. “We got in a little bit of a scuffle with them at the scrimmage the other day. I don’t think they like us too much. It’s going to be fun.”