No. 5 USC men’s water polo earned two more tough wins over the weekend, defeating No. 13 UC Irvine 16-10 at home Saturday before narrowly beating No. 4 UC Santa Barbara 10-9 on the road Sunday.
The Trojans now sit at 9-2, holding a four-game win streak and remaining undefeated at home this season.
Saturday’s game against UC Irvine was a dominant showing by the Trojans on both ends of the pool. USC put up 8 goals in the first half to just 1 from UCI. The Trojans would not relinquish the commanding lead in the second half, despite a fourth-quarter surge from UCI that saw the Anteaters put six shots in the back of the net. However, the Anteaters never came within striking distance of the Trojans, who captured the 16-10 victory.
The USC offense fired on all cylinders against Irvine. Junior driver Jacob Mercep led the team with 4 goals while nine different Trojans scored at least once in the contest. The defense was bolstered by junior goalie Vaios Vlahotasios, who recorded a career-best 15 saves.
Vlahotasios’ fellow goalie, sophomore Nic Porter, complimented his teammate’s play after Saturday’s game.
“It’s a testament, really, to the way he trains and his attitude,” Porter said. “He’s a great training partner, and together we make a really great goalie team … I can’t speak highly enough of him and his performance.”
Sunday’s game in Santa Barbara was a much more evenly matched affair than Saturday’s. The Trojans jumped out to a 4-2 lead in the first period but surrendered that advantage after 3 consecutive goals by the Gauchos to begin the second frame. USC equalized before the end of the half, however, and the two teams went into the third tied at 5 goals apiece.
The third quarter saw a series of lead changes as USC went down a goal, scored 2 straight goals to take the lead, gave up another 2 to UCSB and finally tied the score at 8 as the third period came to a close.
In the first minute of the final period, the Trojans once again jumped out to a 1-goal lead, but Santa Barbara quickly answered back with a goal of its own. Then, with under seven minutes remaining in the game, sophomore two-meter Jake Ehrhardt put away USC’s 10th and final goal. After Porter blocked a last-minute shot attempt by UCSB junior attacker Cole Brosnan, the Trojans played keep-away to run out the clock en route to a 10-9 victory.
USC has only lost twice this season, with one of those losses coming at the hands of Santa Barbara in mid-September. The team kept the frustration of that defeat in mind heading into Sunday’s contest.
“We were pretty disappointed to pick up our first loss of the season to them, so that was definitely a motivating factor for us,” Porter said. “Full credit to them. It was their home pool, they came with a lot of energy and played a great game … but I guess we wanted it more in the end, and that’s why we got the result.”
The team is on a roll and feeling optimistic about its future, but it remains focused on improving various aspects of its game moving forward, particularly defense.
“It feels great to finish [the weekend] with two wins … That’s really going to give us a lot of confidence heading into the rest of the season and the postseason,” Porter said. “[But] we can always improve on our defense. That’s our team philosophy … It’s something that can never be perfect, so we’ll try to get to as close to that as we can.”
The Trojans will have the chance to avenge their only other loss of the season as they take on Pacific Oct. 12 in Stockton, Calif.