The men’s water polo team kicked off the weekend with a decisive 13-7 victory at home against No. 4 Cal Saturday before defeating No. 12 UC Irvine 15-5 on the road Sunday.
Saturday’s conference clash with Cal was particularly important for the Trojans, who are 0-1 this season in MPSF matches. The match began with a series of unanswered scores for the Trojans, propelling them to an early 3-0 lead. Sophomore driver Sawyer Rhodes led the attack with 2 goals, and freshman goalie Nic Porter came up with some important saves to secure a 4-1 Trojan advantage after one frame.
Freshman driver Hannes Daube, who leads the Trojans in goals per game, delivered 2 blasts to extend the Trojans’ lead to 7-1 approaching halftime. The Bears responded with 2 goals of their own in the last two minutes of the half, putting themselves within 4 of the Trojans.
Both teams were quiet for the first few minutes of the second half. After a pair of USC goals, Cal responded with another rally, scoring 3 consecutive goals to bring it within 3 at the end of the third. This late pressure forced the Trojans to maintain their focus and aim to finish the game out strong.
“We just sat down, talked about it, talked about being calm and collected,” junior 2-meter Matt Maier said. “Just go out and play what we can do, play how we can, and that’s what we did and it just worked out for us.”
The Trojans responded to the threat from Cal early in the fourth, as sophomore driver Marko Vavic netted 2 goals to extend the Trojan advantage to 11-6. After a missed shot from Cal, sophomore driver Jacob Mercep rifled in his second goal of the match. Cal was held to 1 goal in the final frame, and Mercep notched a hat trick to reach a team-leading 53 goals.
Porter was the linchpin of the Trojans’ defensive effort throughout Saturday’s game. Along with leading his team vocally by pointing out offensive threats to his teammates, Porter also had 15 saves, quashing many of Cal’s opportunities to put up points.
Despite the early lead, the Trojans were not complacent.
“We just keep in mind that it’s never over until the whistle blows,” Maier said. “In [the game against Cal], we let them score a couple of goals in the middle and we kind of picked it back up again. It is difficult, but it’s all mental.”
The Trojan offense took a bit longer to get into the swing of things in Sunday’s non-conference match against UC Irvine, with the Anteaters scoring first. The Trojans soon bounced back with 2 goals of their own to close out the first frame with a 2-1 advantage. In the second period, the Trojans put up 5 unanswered goals to extend their lead to 6 at the half.
The Trojans’ defense supported their offensive effort. A block, a save and a missed shot at the end of the half all resulted in missed opportunities for UC Irvine which secured a substantial lead.
After redshirt junior driver Daniel Leong netted a goal for the Trojans to open the second half, the Anteaters finally answered with two goals. However, the Trojans quieted the rally with a couple of saves from freshman goalie Sam Krutonog, as well as goals from four different Trojans to close out the third period.
The Trojans’ offensive effort remained strong in the final frame; even though it gave up a pair of goals, USC added 3 more to their total. Despite the slow start for USC, the game ended in a decisive victory for the Trojans with a final score of 15-5.
USC will take on crosstown rival UCLA at Uytengsu Aquatic Center Saturday.