The No. 4 USC men’s water polo team delivered a decisive 10-7 win over No. 1 UCLA Saturday. The win continued the Trojans’ three-game winning streak and keeps them undefeated in MPSF conference play.
With this victory and wins over then-No. 1 Stanford and No. 12 San Jose State at home last weekend, the Trojans are turning the season around as they look to defend last year’s national championship.
The Trojan defense was formidable out of the gate, as sophomore goalie Nic Porter collected two saves early on. Redshirt senior 2-meter Sam Slobodien blocked a UCLA shot and drew an exclusion to open the scoring on a power play with an assist from sophomore driver Hannes Daube almost four minutes into the first period.
After the Bruins turned the ball over to senior driver Marin Dasic, sophomore 2-meter Jake Ehrhardt added his name to the score sheet. Though UCLA junior attacker Nicolas Saveljic was able to sneak one in on a power play, USC quickly answered on its next drive with a goal from redshirt junior driver Luke Wyatt.
This situation was replicated in the last 30 seconds of the period. UCLA sophomore attacker Ashworth Molthen scored on a man down, and Ehrhardt responded with his second goal of the day.
After both teams took several shots late in the second period, Dasic was able to bring the score to 5-2 with an assist from Wyatt. Bruins freshman attacker Andy Rodgers managed to send one to the back of the net in the last minute, but the Trojans took advantage in transition with a center-score from Slobodien.
The third frame brought a hard press from UCLA, drawing an exclusion on Daube to allow junior attacker Chasen Travisano to score on a 6-on-5. Dasic didn’t let the Bruins celebrate for long, scoring a near-side goal with help from freshman driver Chris Sturtevant.
Daube commented on the team’s adjustment to UCLA’s defensive shift.
“We knew they were going to come out strong. We just had to lead going into the third quarter,” Daube said. “And we knew that we were either going to close it out right there or give them a chance to come back in the game. So we came together in the huddle and just motivated each other, reminded us to stay strong and be with each other.”
Entering the fourth with a 3-point lead, the Trojans focused on moving the ball and minimizing the Bruins’ scoring opportunities. About two minutes in, Dasic collected his third goal of the day on a man-up, but UCLA answered with goals from sophomore attacker/utility Jake Cavano and Saveljic after a timeout.
USC brought its final score to 10 with goals from Daube and junior driver Jacob Mercep. Even with one more goal by Saveljic, the Bruins ultimately were unable to close the gap.
With one more MPSF game to go against Cal Saturday before heading into the MPSF Tournament the following weekend, the Trojans are looking to extend their winning streak against some of the toughest teams in the conference.
“Cal is going to be extremely dangerous,” head coach Marko Pintaric said. “They’re very young, they’re very explosive, they play press, the freshman goalie is very energetic. And you don’t take any opponent this year for granted, and we are getting ready. You’re taking every game like it’s the last game of the season, in a way, because we’re in that position.”
The Trojans’ matchup against the Bears begins at 1 p.m. in Berkeley.