Men’s water polo beats UC Santa Barbara in tight match

Austin Paik | Daily Trojan

It took 15 seconds for the top-ranked men’s water polo team to take control in Sunday’s 6-3 win over No. 8 UC Santa Barbara. Senior 2-meter Lachlan Edwards put USC on the board early in the first quarter with an assist by freshman driver Marko Vavic. Senior driver Matteo Morelli scored to increase the Trojans’ lead to 2-0 to end the quarter.

“We focused really hard on playing good defense today, and we did: We only allowed one goal until the last few minutes of the game,” Morelli said. “Personally, I was focused on trying to make the least amount of mistakes, and even if I made mistakes, to have a quick memory and focus on the next play.”

Senior utility James Walters and senior driver Blake Edwards each added on goals before UCSB freshman driver Tommy Fellner put the Gauchos on the board with 5:59 left in the second quarter. Edwards scored again, and the Trojans entered halftime with a 5-1 lead.

Both teams were held scoreless in the third. Lachlan Edwards broke the scoreless run with 5:16 left in the game, and UCSB scored two goals in the last minutes of the fourth quarter, ending the game 6-3.

“We didn’t really do a good job on offense — we missed easy opportunities,” Morelli said. “We were able to win the game, but when we play harder teams, we have to focus on making those easy opportunities.”

Senior goalie McQuin Baron, who won his second MPSF Player of the Week award of the season on Monday, tallied 14 saves for the Trojans in the victory. Blake Edwards led the team in scoring with his two goals. Edwards and sophomore driver Thomas Dunstan tied for most assists for the Trojans, each tallying two.

After a busy early season, the Trojans have some time off. On Saturday, they will play Trojan alumni in the USC Water Polo Alumni Game.

“It’s always fun seeing all those guys that have won a lot and have fun with them,” Morelli said. “We always take it as a serious game, but it’s an opportunity [to learn].”

USC’s next test will be at home against UC Irvine on Oct. 21. The Trojans will play the Anteaters for the second time this fall after facing them in the quarterfinal of the Mountain Pacific Invitational last month — when USC edged UC Irvine in a 10-9 nailbiter at the Uytengsu Aquatics Center. After that, the team looks forward to its final five regular season matches before heading toward the postseason.

“I think our main goal is to be ranked No. 1 going into the MPSF tournament and ranked No. 1 going into the NCAA tournament,” Morelli said. “And obviously, the final goal is to win it all.”