Men’s water polo gears up for Inland Empire Invitational

Marko Vavic, the son of head coach Jovan Vavic, was the team’s top scorer last season. (Tucker Judkins | Daily Trojan)

After starting the season with two wins last weekend at the UCLA Mini Invitational, the Men of Troy will be in the pool once again this weekend as they partake in the Inland Empire Invitational at the University of Redlands.

This past weekend, the Trojans showed once again why they were one win away from a national championship in 2017. Facing off against No. 18 Pomona-Pitzer and Whittier, the Men of Troy dominated with scores of 16-1 and 25-4, respectively. While all wins feel good, a strong season opening victory such as that over a ranked team in Pomona-Pitzer will give the Trojans plenty of positive momentum heading into the rest of their schedule.

Leading the way for USC, junior driver Marin Dasic and sophomore driver Marko Vavic put up 6 and 4 scores respectively over a successful weekend in Westwood. Anticipated to be the squad’s leading scorers in 2018, it was an impressive showing for the pair.

Aside from the well-known stars, a fair number of newcomers made their impact felt on Saturday. Freshman two-meter specialists Jake Ehrhardt and James Kolenda, and freshman utility Alexander Lansill were just three of the six new Trojans who scored to help seal victory in Saturday’s contests.

In net, four different Trojans saw time in goal through the two contests. To the surprise of few, however, highly touted freshman goalie Sam Krutonog got the first crack at being USC’s goaltender when he started against Pomona-Pitzer and made eight saves in the winning effort.

Prior to the Invitational, USC will host Concordia in its home opener Thursday night, also one of the squads that USC will end up facing at this weekend’s invitational. The Trojans dismantled the Irvine-based team to the tune of a 25-3 win last season. Play begins at 5 p.m. at the Uytengsu Aquatics Center.

Looking ahead at this weekend’s slate of games, there is all the reason in the world for the Trojans to be confident that they will dominate as they did a year ago. In 2017, USC swept the competition with comfortable wins over Claremont-Mudd-Scripps and Redlands. Scoring 10 goals over the weekend, Dasic and Vavic scored prolifically and at will in last season’s competition.

This year, the story is expected to be largely similar. The one wrinkle is the addition of the La Verne Leopards to the weekend schedule. Coming off an 0-4 start to the 2018 season, the team will take on Riverside Community College, No. 7  Long Beach State and No. 10 UC Santa Barbara before facing off against the Men of Troy.

Overall, the competition USC will face at this weekend’s tournament has found tough sledding so far in 2018. Carrying a 3-9 total record (Claremont-Mudd-Scripps will debut at the invitational), the Trojans are expected to take care of business in Redlands, Calif. over the weekend.

The competition kicks off Saturday at 10:20 a.m. when the Trojans face off against the host team Redlands, and will continue through their last game at noon on Sunday against La Verne.