Men’s water polo holds off Stanford, clinches 10th national title

Sophomore driver Marko Vavic in a game against UC Santa Barbara earlier this season. Vavic and the Trojans clinched their 10th national title on Sunday. (Josh Dunst | Daily Trojan)

The Trojans dominated in the the third quarter of the NCAA finals against Stanford, and the game seemed all but over as they entered the final frame with a 11-4 lead. The Cardinal refused to concede, however, scoring 8 fourth quarter goals to bring themselves within 2 of USC with just a minute to go.

Freshman two-meter Jake Ehrhardt then delivered a blast that defeated Stanford’s hopes of a comeback, helping USC earn its first national title since 2013 by beating Stanford 14-12 in Palo Alto on Sunday. It marks the 10th national championship for the men’s program. 

“We all trusted in each other,” junior two-meter Matt Maier said. “We all bought into the system that we run, and we all just trusted that we could get the job done.”

The Trojan offense wasted no time against Stanford, scoring 5 unanswered goals in the first period. A couple of Stanford’s 6-on-5 attempts were stifled by Porter, and the Trojan lead mounted to six goals by halftime.

“I think the guys really wanted this one,” head coach Jovan Vavic said. “And when you want something badly and you put everything on the line, sometimes the ball will bounce your way, and it was fun to see that.”

Sophomore driver Jacob Mercep was named the MVP of the NCAA championship, playing a major role in the dominant USC offense with 5 goals and four assists in the title game.

The Cardinal won the MPSF tournament two weeks prior, automatically earning a bid for their first championship since 2002.USC narrowly defeated crosstown rival UCLA 8-7 in the semifinal match of the NCAA tournament on Saturday before taking on Stanford. The clash began as a contest between the two highest-ranked defenses in the MPSF. The Trojan defense came up with two big 6-on-5 stops at the end of the first frame to keep the score at 1-1. UCLA’s offense started to catch fire at the outset of the second quarter with two early scores.

“We are a very young team … so I think we were a little nervous in the beginning,” Vavic said. “When the game started, we made a couple of defensive errors and gave them some easy goals.”

With a tied game going into halftime, the fourth quarter saw a shootout between the two potent offenses. Freshman driver Hannes Daube, who leads the Trojans in goals per game, secured a hat trick. The match remained square with seconds to go, until redshirt junior two-meter Sam Slobodien netted the winning goal.

“We’re a really fit team, we rely on our speed a lot and our endurance,” Porter said. “As you can see, that paid off. We were fighting around to the last second of the game, and we were really happy to get the win.”

By overcoming UCLA, the Trojans secured a spot in their 14th consecutive NCAA final game.

The national title was especially important to the Trojans’ seniors drivers, Zach D’Sa and Daniel Leong, who were able to get their first taste of championship victory after falling short in their previous years as Trojans.

“We waited a long time for this one,” Vavic said. “Four years has been a very long time and a very frustrating four years for us, and a very frustrating four years for our seniors, and I’m very, very happy for them.”