USC’s all-time career saves leader, five-time MPSF Player of the Week winner and 2016 summer Olympian: Those are just some of the many titles held by McQuin Baron, the men’s water polo team’s senior goaltender.
Yet, despite all the accomplishments that he has achieved throughout his years in the pool, water polo wasn’t always what he wanted to do. In fact, it wasn’t even his favorite sport when he was younger.
“My dad played basketball in college and my mom played soccer and tennis,” Baron said. “I was super into soccer and basketball just because that is what my parents had played.”
While neither of his parents had played water polo, one of his older brothers played for the SoCal Water Polo club team near his hometown of North Tustin, Calif. It wasn’t until Baron went with his mom to pick his brother up from practice one day that someone got him into the pool.
“When I was like 7 or 8 years old … our family friend was the head coach,” Baron said. “He kinda just tossed me in there with my brother. My brother was a goalie, so I was automatically the goalie. Honestly, ever since then, it just stuck.”
From then on, Baron began playing water polo, yet continued to play soccer, basketball and baseball throughout middle school. It wasn’t until high school that he finally decided to focus on water polo.
“I didn’t really want to play any other sport once I got there,” Baron said. “It was an addicting sport for me once I got to that level.”
Anyone who has grown up in Southern California knows that Mater Dei High School is an athletics powerhouse. Baron even recalled at one point during his time there that the school took a whole week off because so many teams had won their championships, which earned a day off of school each. It was only natural that Baron chose Mater Dei, even though his brothers had played sports at its rival, Orange Lutheran High School.
“I loved it,” Baron said. “We had a 111-game win streak throughout my career [and] I won three of four championships there.”
Baron’s looks back on Mater Dei as a sort of mini-college. He felt it was the best transition into playing water polo for USC that he could have asked for with the positive experience that he had and the people he met throughout his time there.
However, coming to USC still was a huge transition that created a lot of pressure to do well and a tough, competitive environment that was different from the one at his high school.
“Goalie is a hard position,” Baron said. “If you win a game, it usually is on the guy who scored the most goals, but if you lose a game, it is usually on your goalie. So, losing a game and then being a 17-year-old goalie for such a high-profile team … it was a difficult transition especially coming from a senior in high school where you are the oldest at the level and you hit your prime and then are back at the bottom when you come to college.”
From coming in as a freshman to playing in his final season this year, Baron feels he has grown. He especially feels that playing for one of his coaches at USC who he has had all four years, Marko Pintaric as well as the national team has helped mold him into the player he is today.
Even with everything he has learned and how far he has come as a player, Baron is not satisfied just yet. Having never won a championship here at USC, he and the other seniors feel as if they have something left to finish before they can leave.
“We don’t want to leave here without leaving our mark on this program and leaving some type of legacy,” Baron said. “Especially coming from a team that had won six straight titles coming into our freshman year.”
With the end of the season rapidly approaching, Baron is focusing on his goal to leave behind yet another legacy with his teammates by winning the national championship. At 18-1 on the season so far, the Trojans are proving they are a strong force in the pool, but they are not going to let off the gas until that trophy is theirs. Baron also has another achievement on his radar. He is just 95 saves shy of the current holder of the MPSF all-time saves, Alex Malkis.
By the end of this season, two more titles could be added to his already impressive list. But by then, Baron will have already turned his eyes toward the next thing on his to-do list — an Olympic gold medal.