Playing with goals in mind

Warren Poh

Warren Poh

If you want to have a championship water polo team, your goalie needs to be the backbone of the team.

At least that is the case according to junior goalie McQuin Baron. Baron is wracking up accolades and records. He is a two-time All-American and is second on USC’s list for career saves. Perhaps the most impressive accolade, though, is that the humble Baron was an Olympian this year.

“I didn’t deserve to walk out in the opening ceremonies with the greatest Olympian of all time, but it’s still awesome,” Baron said.

Baron was talking about Michael Phelps. His favorite memories from the Olympics come from walking out during the opening ceremonies next to the swimming star as well as meeting the basketball team and watching swimming finals with Olympic swimmer Missy Franklin.

“The Olympics unites people in sport,” Baron said. “It doesn’t matter who you are as a person or how high profile you are. While you’re there, you are equal with everyone.”

Even for the highly competitive Baron, playing at the Olympics was more than just a tournament that the Americans didn’t win. The American team fell short in group play, winning two of their four games and failed to advance to the quarterfinals.

“I’ll forever be an Olympian, but to a certain extent it’s really disappointing — even heartbreaking — because you work for four years to get to a certain level, and we could’ve trained for an extra month and still done just as well,” Baron said. “You start playing your games and realize it’s a just another tournament, but on a much higher level. You’re playing the same teams from the previous four years; the same people and you still have the same goal of wanting to win.”

Baron took the spring semester off academically in order to train for the Olympics and dedicated approximately six hours a day to the sport. Team USA lifted weights from 6 a.m.- 7:30 a.m., practiced in the pool until noon, and had an afternoon session from 12:30 p.m.- 2:30 p.m. On top of that, three times a week the team returned from 5 p.m.- 7 p.m. for an additional practice.

Baron said his favorite part about the training period was getting to live at home with his family and other collegiate Olympians who were staying with him.

Baron also said his experience has made him an even better player this year, specifically playing against such high-level athletes on a daily basis.

The summer competition also made Baron realize the difference between collegiate athletics and professional athletics.

“College water polo is harder because you have so much more on your mind,” Baron said. “You’re still playing a sport that you love, and we play it because we love it. It isn’t your job, and that’s what you need to find success.”

For Baron, success hasn’t been hard to come by. The Tustin native already has 125 saves this season, bringing his career total to 695; good enough for second on USC’s all-time saves list. The record holder remains former Trojan Joel Dennerley, who wrapped up 855 saves while winning four national titles. That elusive first national title, is now Baron’s only focus.

“I could end my four years here and have every record, but if I don’t have a national championship, no one will remember me. Everyone will remember them,” Baron said.

The team is returning this season as one of the most experienced groups in the country, having retained their key people from deep NCAA tournament runs in the past.

“We have the best core group and our connection is unbelievable,” Barons said. “Now, there is no excuse.”

Baron said he has 100 percent confidence in this team to win the title this year. For as much fun as it was to play for Team USA, Baron said he loves playing for USC where the fans and everyone involved with the success of the program are closer to home.

“We have the experience,” Baron said. “I think we have the most experienced team in the NCAA and we have the most talented, so there’s really no excuse to not win.”

Regardless, Baron will be between the pipes, just where the backbone of a team should be.