Near the beginning of the third quarter of the men’s water polo game Friday against No. 8 Pepperdine, junior driver Grant Stein was handed a golden opportunity in the form of a 5-meter penalty. Before the shot, junior goaltender McQuin Baron yelled for a teammate to grab the rebound, and then appeared to flash a smile. There was never any doubt. Stein nailed the shot to extend USC’s lead to 9-2.
The play was indicative of a dominating performance for the No. 3-ranked Men of Troy. Ten different players scored in the 15-4 victory over the Waves, and five players hit the two goal mark.
The Trojans closed out the weekend by beating UC Irvine 20-4 on Sunday. Junior driver Matteo Morelli scored four goals and both Edwards brothers — Lachlan and Blake — recorded hat tricks in the win. USC led 2-1 after the first quarter but outscored UC Irvine 10-1 in the second quarter and cruised to victory.
Against Pepperdine, the offense looked in sync for most of the game, producing a steady output of scoring after the first quarter in which the Trojans only led 2-1.
“The team chemistry is good,” said junior Blake Edwards, who had two goals. “It’s something that we’re working on. It’s getting better. We have a lot of new players this season, a couple young freshmen, but they’re playing fantastic.”
Four freshmen scored goals against Pepperdine, including two apiece from Thomas Dunstan and Marin Dasic.
The second and third quarters were particularly prolific for the Trojans offense. Dunstan scored his second goal of the game just before halftime, concluding a five-goal onslaught and solidifying a commanding 7-1 lead. By the third quarter, the Waves were conceding frequent point blank goals as their defense diminished over time. USC added five more goals in the third and three in the fourth. Edwards scored his second goal in the fourth quarter; he leads the team with 24 on the season. Pepperdine managed to score its fourth and final goal just as time was expiring.
Defensively, USC continued its string of excellence. Baron made history in the first quarter with his 676th career save, which propelled him to second all time in the school record books. For the game, he recorded an impressive 14 saves, anchoring a defense that allows an MPSF-leading 3.85 goals per game. Pepperdine had its fair share of scoring opportunities, even hitting the post on a few occasions, but Baron was too much of a force in goal. Baron did not hesitate when asked about the team’s biggest strength.
“Defense obviously,” he said. “We’re number one in the country right now.”
Baron was dismissive of his accomplishment, though, instead citing the desire to continue winning rather than worry about personal achievements.
With this key victory over a strong team in Pepperdine, the Trojans improve to 14-1 with their only loss being to No. 2 Cal two weeks ago in the Mountain Pacific Invitational. USC started the season ranked at the number two spot but fell to number three after the Cal loss.
“We’re not too concerned about it,” Edwards said on the slight fall in the rankings. “We just know we have to put in the effort and the work and then the results will show.”
Despite the stellar performance on Friday, head coach Jovan Vavic found plenty to critique. Ever the perfectionist, Vavic vocally reprimanded his team in the second quarter after a goal by senior driver Nick Bell, assisted by junior utility Bryce Hoerman.
“It’s a snap, not a flick!,” Vavic said.
Next up, the Trojans will take on UC Santa Barbara at home next Sunday.