Men’s water polo ready to defend title without Vavic

Junior driver Marko Vavic led the team by scoring in 28 games and had 17 multi-goal outings last year. He finished third on USC with 57 goals. (Josh Dunst | Daily Trojan)

The USC men’s water polo team begins the 2019 regular season this weekend at the Inland Empire Invitational in Claremont and La Verne, marking the team’s first official game action since winning the national title last December. Although it has been over nine months since the championship game, there has been plenty of news and movement within the program.

The most significant change was the turnover at head coach for both the men’s and women’s teams. Longtime head coach and 15-time winner of the National Coach of the Year award for collegiate water polo Jovan Vavic was ousted from the position after he was indicted for a racketeering conspiracy charge in relation to his alleged role in the college admissions scandal. He was accused of accepting bribes totaling more than a quarter million dollars.

Former Athletic Director Lynn Swann announced in August that Marko Pintaric, longtime associate head coach to Vavic, will succeed Vavic as head coach of both teams this year, while longtime assistant coach Casey Moon will take Pintaric’s old position.

“We have very talented and historically successful water polo programs at USC,” Swann said. “We believe Marko will provide the continuity and stability that those programs need to stay at the top of the collegiate water polo world.”

Pintaric has been with the program for 18 seasons and has helped coach the men’s and women’s teams to a staggering 14 national championships in that span.

“This means a lot to me,” Pintaric said. “As a Trojan myself, it’s been a dream to coach at USC, and it’s always been my goal to become a head coach and oversee this program. This is a very special group of men and women who care about each other and the culture here. It is an honor and a pleasure to coach them.”

Not all news has centered around the coaching staff since the men’s team last played. Sophomore driver Hannes Daube and Vavic’s son junior driver Marko won gold with the United States’ men’s national team at the 2019 Pan American Games in Lima, Peru, this summer. The duo combined for 24 goals over the course of the Games. The team’s victory also qualified the United States for the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo, Japan.

While USC’s women’s water polo team will not begin its season until the spring, the program was also well-represented in Lima. Graduates Joelle Bekhazi and Hayley McKelvey won silver for Canada, while fellow graduate Victória Chamorro played goalie for Brazil which took home bronze. Sophomore driver Paige Hauschild and 2017 graduate Stephania Haralabidis won gold for the U.S. women’s team, which had already qualified for Tokyo previously. 

USC’s men’s team will return its top scorers from the 2018 season — junior driver Jacob Mercep and Daube — who combined to score 120 goals last year, while sophomore goalie Nic Porter enters his second season in the cage.

Daube was named the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation’s Newcomer of the Year while Mercep was recognized as the NCAA Tournament’s Most Valuable Player. The impressive duo received  All-MPSF and All-America first team honors for their production last season and Porter was also given All-America second team distinction.

After an eventful nine months since winning the national championship last December, the men’s water polo team will head into the season as the No. 1-ranked team in the nation. 

The Trojans look to start their season on the right foot against Claremont-Mudd-Scripps Saturday at noon.