Men’s water polo is ready for another top-10 opponent

This weekend could prove pivotal for the men’s water polo team as the Trojans (15-1) travel to Long Beach State on Saturday afternoon to battle the No. 6 49ers (11-5) for the second time this season.

Katie Chin | Daily Trojan Dive on in · Senior driver Nick Bell and the Trojans are playing No. 6 LBSU on the road on Saturday. In their previous game, USC won, 9-4.

Katie Chin | Daily Trojan
Dive on in · Senior driver Nick Bell and the Trojans are playing No. 6 LBSU on the road on Saturday. In their previous game, USC won, 9-4.

USC’s 66-15 all-time record against LBSU signifies recent Trojan dominance, as the Men of Troy have claimed 27 straight games against the 49ers in recent years.

This Saturday, however, Beach will be hosting USC with heavy momentum after two top-25 wins over UCSD (10-6) and Pepperdine (7-4) this past week.

Their defense is different from USC’s in that it does not rely on steals or blocks, per se, but rather on Australian goalie Thomas Freeman, who has saved 97 of 168 shot attempts. While his save percentage may not be as high as USC junior goalie McQuin Baron’s, Freeman has allowed only 1.2 more goals per game.

On the offensive side of the ball, the 49ers are efficient with their possessions, netting 75.8 percent of all shot attempts.

According to senior driver Nick Bell, this game could be potentially different with 6-foot-7, 285-pound center Duncan Lynde back in the lineup for Long Beach.

“We’ve scrimmaged with them in the summer so we know the different ways they play and some of their players. We’ve definitely taken some different steps to prepare for them this time,” Bell said. “They’re going to have their big guy back which changes our game plan.”

Baron and his 13 saves kept leading 49er scorers Nolan McConnell (31 goals) and Keegan Wicken (15 goals) at bay. Baron and the USC defense could be challenged by not just McConnell and Wicken, but also 49er sharpshooter Austin Stewart who has scored 14 goals off of 17 shots.

Against the No. 7 UC Santa Barbara Gauchos last weekend, the Men of Troy gave the USC home crowd a reason to cheer with a 16-6 win despite the Guachos playing the Trojans to a 4-4 tie in the first half.

In the victory, the USC offense was firing on all cylinders, with junior driver Blake Edwards netting a hat trick and his 100th career goal within the first two periods of play.

As the 33rd Trojan in program history in the 100-goal club, Edwards leads the team with 32 goals this season and will be a big factor against a Long Beach team that allowed Edwards to score two of USC’s nine goals back in September.

In a 9-4 USC victory that saw seven different Trojans score goals, USC dominated on the defensive side of the ball and went into the final frame with a 7-2 lead.

“We go into every game like it’s the championship game. Defense is one of the things that [head coach Jovan] Vavic always stresses,” Bell said. “Defense wins championships and it’s the backbone of our whole system. McQuin Baron has been doing a great job and locking it down in the cage this season.”

Despite the challenge ahead, the team is confident.

“He’s a lefty which makes him a huge threat. He’s very good and we’ll have to pay a lot of attention to stopping him,” junior utility Mihajlo Millicevic said of McConnell. “Overall, I don’t think he’s going to be a huge problem for us. We can stop him.”