Water polo set to play in midseason tournament

Redshirt senior driver Jacob Mercep looks to move the ball with opposing defenders in front of him.
Men’s water polo are undefeated heading into the MPSF Invitational. (Andrew Kerner | Daily Trojan)

Despite winning all three of its matches in the Aggie Roundup, USC dropped to No. 2 behind rival UCLA. However, the Trojans snagged the first seed in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation Invitational and are the favorites in this weekend’s top-flight tournament. 

USC has a bye Friday and will play the winner of the matchup between No. 7 UC Davis and No. 9 UC San Diego Saturday. 

“Obviously, it’s not an NCAA Tournament. We know that but we are treating it like it is one,” senior goalie Nic Porter said. “So our focus is the same [for] every game … getting ourselves ready for December when the real NCAA Tournament happens. This is great practice for us to get used to that environment.”

The Trojans seem to have an easy path to the title game — No. 3 Stanford and No. 5 UC Santa Barbara are the only real threats to upset USC — but they remain vigilant for whoever they might face.

“The games when you’re not necessarily sure who you’re playing can be the most dangerous,” junior driver Marcus Longton said. “You can let down your guard and not be completely focused when you should be.”

This is USC’s first chance to play any of the other programs in the big four: Stanford is the likely semifinal matchup, and No. 1 UCLA will battle it out with No. 3 Cal on the other side of the bracket. One of the big four has claimed every NCAA title since 1998, so the Trojans know they’ll have their hands full defensively.

“It’s all about watching as much film as I can on the teams we’re going to play,” Porter said. “Obviously it brings the best out of our defense and myself … It’s just about being mentally ready when I’m in the cage.”

Even with the talented squads ahead of them, head coach Marko Pintaric wants the team to focus on itself, especially with the bye. Pintaric plans to run real-game simulations Friday to keep his players in top form.

“You always start with yourself and what you need to fix based on our performances so far in the season,” Pintaric said. “I don’t like to have a game off … [I want] them to feel the tournament atmosphere, because it is an important tournament. In my opinion, it is the toughest tournament to play.”

USC’s opening tournament game will take place on Saturday at 8 a.m. at the Spieker Aquatics Complex at UC Berkeley.