USC’s fall sports teams have had their highs and lows

Freshman quarterback Kedon Slovis was a standout during the regular season for USC, finishing sixth in the nation in completion percentage. (Ling Luo / Daily Trojan)

Men’s water poloJoe Skinner, assistant sports editor

Grade: A-

After going 14-5 against regular season and playoff opponents, USC men’s water polo’s stellar 2019 campaign is nearly complete. The players and coaches had to overcome a great deal of adversity this year but now find themselves ranked No. 2 in the nation with an opportunity to win their second consecutive NCAA Championship this weekend.

After it was discovered in March that longtime head coach Jovan Vavic was involved in the college admissions scandal, former assistant coaches Marko Pintaric and Casey Moon have stepped up to lead a talented roster to its 15th consecutive appearance in the NCAA Tournament.

Whenever a program puts itself in a position to win a national title, it deserves an A grade of one kind or another. This season’s water polo team earns an A- because USC had its share of ups and downs. That said, the downs were few and far between.

The team suffered just four defeats over the course of the regular season. These losses came against highly skilled competition in UC Santa Barbara, Pacific and Pepperdine — each of these programs rank in the top six nationally. The Trojans’ lone postseason defeat thus far came in the opening round of the MPSF tournament against Cal in Berkeley, though USC defeated the Golden Bears up north the weekend prior.

With just three wins standing between them and the 2019 National Collegiate Men’s Water Polo Championship, the Trojans still have a chance to turn that A- into an A+.

Women’s soccerHarrison Cho, assistant sports editor

Grade: A-

The No. 9 USC women’s soccer team’s season came to a close with a heartbreaking 3-2 loss to No. 2-ranked UNC in the NCAA quarterfinals this past Friday. The Trojans ended the season at a solid 17-5-1 and made it further into the postseason then they had the past two years. For the third season in a row, head coach Keidane McAlpine put forth an elite unit, but the team could not pull off enough big wins to separate itself from the rest of the pack. Because of this, the team gets an A- instead of an A. 

The huge losses to Cal, Washington and UCLA during Pac-12 play demonstrated that USC was not quite at the same level as teams like Stanford and Virginia. Although USC could have played better in the Pac-12, McAlpine still did an impressive job leading USC to its third Elite Eight. Next year, the Trojans will return players such as sophomore forward Penelope Hocking, junior forward Tara McKeown and redshirt junior goalie Kaylie Collins in an attempt to improve upon this season’s effort. 

Football — Nathan Ackerman, sports editor

Grade: B-

This season hasn’t exactly been the pinnacle of USC football, but it hasn’t been quite the trainwreck many think. USC picked up a few solid wins this year, knocking off now-No. 6 Utah and dominating then-ranked Stanford by 25. It competed with then-No. 9 Notre Dame until the fourth quarter and only lost by 3 on the road, and it picked up convincing wins against Cal, Arizona and UCLA.

Underrecruited freshman quarterback Kedon Slovis emerged as one of the nation’s best signal-callers, senior wide receiver Michael Pittman Jr. is a Biletnikoff Award finalist, the team overcame injuries to several running backs and the defense took considerable strides forward despite subpar coaching. 

Still, USC lost to a poor BYU team, almost blew a 27-point lead against Arizona State and its backup quarterback, nearly lost to Colorado and got demolished by 32 points against Oregon at home. 

A season in which USC, given all its talent, doesn’t at least win the Pac-12 South cannot earn a particularly high mark. This season has been littered with inconsistency, and USC never really seemed to find its groove against good competition. The Trojans’ 8-4 record isn’t anything worthy of excitement —  it’s above average but, for this program, underwhelming.

Women’s volleyballMichelle Mankoff, beat writer

Grade: C

The women’s volleyball team never quite reached its potential all year. Injuries plagued a group that started as the No. 14 squad in the nation. Early in the season, All-American senior outside hitter Khalia Lanier was out for a couple of weeks with a concussion. Junior outside hitter Brooke Botkin suffered an Achilles injury in November, which put extra pressure on Lanier to produce. 

Despite her early injury, Lanier was a rare bright spot this season for the Trojans. She tallied 40 kills against Utah, the second-highest mark ever by a USC player. Lanier rose to second in the all-time kill category for USC behind only former Trojan great Sam Bricio.

USC was swept in the final match of the regular season, dropping to a 17-13 overall record. The Trojans were never able to string together a significant series of wins, with their longest win streak spanning just three matches. The team lost seven five-set matches during the year and won just four. The only top-tier team USC beat this season was Washington, whom they defeated twice. Ultimately, many of USC’s victories came against weaker opponents. All that said, USC has a chance to improve its mark with a deep tournament run, but the road will be tough.