After two regular season losses to UCLA, the men’s water polo team entered the MPSF championship game with an automatic NCAA championship berth on the line — and claimed it with a 7-5 win over the Bruins on Sunday in Palo Alto.
The Trojans entered the tournament seeded fourth, securing two wins against Penn State Behrend and Stanford to make it to the championship matchup, where they defeated the Bruins.
The Trojans kicked off the tournament with a dominant 17-2 win over fifth-seeded Penn State Behrend Friday morning. USC took an early 3-0 lead before allowing the Bears a goal in the first quarter. The Trojans then took control with a 14-goal streak, allowing the Bears their only other goal in the fourth quarter.
Sophomore 2-meter Sam Slobodien led the Trojans with 4 goals, while sophomore driver Marin Dasic, senior utility Bryce Hoerman and senior 2-meter Lachlan Edwards each tallied 2. Goalies McQuin Baron, a senior, and Will Rubschlager, a sophomore, gave up a goal each and racked up a total of nine saves.
On Friday afternoon, the Trojans faced top-seeded host team Stanford in a game that would determine who would make it to Sunday’s championship matchup. USC took an early 3-0 lead before Stanford fired back to end the first quarter down 3-1. The Cardinal cut down the Trojans’ lead early in the second, but the Trojans held on to the lead to end the half 6-3.
Freshman driver Marko Vavic and senior driver Matteo Morelli added on to the Trojans’ lead in the third, while Baron kept the Cardinal at bay. Edwards and Vavic both scored in the fourth to up the lead to 10-3, with Stanford scoring 2 goals late in the fourth to end the game 10-5.
Against UCLA, the game was kept scoreless until Morelli broke through about five minutes into the first quarter, putting USC up 1-0. Senior utility James Walters and Edwards scored again in the start of the second, giving USC yet another 3-0 lead before UCLA’s Max Irving put the Bruins on the board. The teams traded goals to end the half with a 4-2 USC lead.
UCLA scored early in the third quarter to cut USC’s lead down to one, but USC’s Morelli responded to give the Trojans a 5-3 edge. With less than two minutes left in the period, the Bruins broke through to score again.
Both teams were held scoreless until the last three minutes of the fourth quarter. In a span of 11 seconds, USC’s Edwards and UCLA’s Nicholas Saveljic both scored, leaving the Trojans with a slim 6-5 lead with 2:42 left in the game. Baron prevented the Bruins from breaking through in the final minutes, and the Trojans scored with 1:29 left in the game to seal their 7-5 win and the 2017 MPSF Championship.
With the win, the Trojans secure an automatic berth and top seed in the NCAA Championships, to be held Dec. 2 and 3 at USC’s own Uytengsu Aquatics Center. The Trojans look to avenge last year’s overtime championship loss to Cal by securing the program’s 15th national championship under head coach Jovan Vavic.