Coming off a heartbreaking loss in the NCAA Championship to rival UCLA last season, the men’s water polo team is ready to make waves this season with another run for its 10th title following 11 straight appearances in the championship game.
This Saturday, the Men of Troy will travel south to La Jolla to battle UC Irvine and Cal Baptist in the Triton Invitational at UC San Diego.
The Trojans, coming off a 22-7 season, will return 15 of their top scorers, including their top five scoring threats, all of whom have another year of experience and growth under their belt. Junior brothers Blake and Lachlan Edwards will join Grant Stein and Matteo Morelli to form a dangerous offensive assault.
Of the 21 players who netted goals for USC last season, only six — Mac Carden (21), Luke Felton (13), Nick Lavayen (7), Tristan Reinhardt (5), Andrew Silvers (2) and Jake Sanders (1) — are departing.
Considering USC’s varied offensive weapons, 6-foot-9 junior McQuin Baron should have no trouble returning as starting goalie this season. Baron returns to USC with the seventh-most saves in USC history (570) with two seasons left in his collegiate career.
After upsetting the No. 2 Cal Bears in last year’s NCAA semifinals, Baron (who had two clutch saves on Cal’s penalty shots) emphasized the importance of increased defense and the role he plays.
“Our team gets very energized, they get very, very excited when I block a shot,” Baron told NCAA.com’s John Reger last year. “I get excited when our team is enjoying our team defense. A lot of teams will get excited when they score a goal, but our team gets very excited when I make a shot block or a save.”
Along with USC’s offense scoring 13.8 goals per game, Baron and the Trojan defense kept opposing offenses to just 6.2 goals per game, saving an average of 10.8 shots per game.
The strength of the Trojans rests in their ability to get on the board early and often. In 2015, USC scored 212 of their 395 regulation goals in the first half of games. On the other hand, the Trojans’ defense was often exposed in the second half, allowing 98 goals compared to 81 in the first half.
If the Trojans can clamp down on opponents in the third quarter specifically (55 goals allowed last season), they should see some more wins this year.
Helping the veterans will be a group of talented freshmen that includes Marin Dasic, Thomas Dunstan, Chas Hornecker, Matt Maier, Will Rubschlager and Luke Wyatt.
Dunstan, a two-meter “game-changer” who joined Baron on Team USA in Rio, can play excellent defense and will also aid the Trojans’ offense.
“Thomas is definitely one of the top two recruits in the nation this year,” co-head coach Jovan Vavic said of the freshman. “The kid is big, fast and a lefty. He’s a great swimmer, has long arms, can play at 2-meters, shoot from the outside, play 2-meter defense and help in the counterattack. He’s also a great passer — almost too unselfish in his passing. He’s really a complete package.”
Vavic has coached the team for more than 20 seasons, but this year will be joined by Marko Pintaric as a co-head coach. Pintaric has served as an assistant under Vavic for the past 15 seasons.
The Trojans start off their season this Saturday against UC Irvine and Cal Baptist.
With a regular season schedule that includes games against top-ranked UC Santa Barbara, Stanford, Cal, Long Beach State, Pacific and UCLA (most of which will be at home), the Trojans will be tested early and often.