No.1 men’s water polo beats No. 6 Pacific at home

Sophomore driver Carson Kranz, No. 7, hoists the ball in the air looking to pass.
Sophomore driver Carson Kranz holds the ball in the air looking to pass against Pacific Oct. 2. (Simon Park | Daily Trojan)

Another week, another win for No. 1 men’s water polo: After claiming sole possession of the nation’s top rank, USC topped No. 6 Pacific 16-9 in a non-conference win at Uytengsu Aquatic Center. 

In their 11th straight win, the Trojans had a variety of scoring outputs. Redshirt junior driver Hannes Daube finished with a hat trick; fellow redshirt junior driver Ashworth Molthen and sophomore driver Carson Kranz each banged in two scores. 

At center stage, graduate student 2-meter Wyatt Barker, who played three seasons with the Tigers, ended with two steals and a hat trick on four shots.

“Playing against the old team and as competitive as we are … [I’m] always trying to do [my] best against the old boys,” Barker said. “[There was that] little extra edge for me this weekend.”

Redshirt senior driver Jacob Mercep, who only appeared on the scoreboard once, chipped in a pair of assists and one takeaway. Throughout the game, the lefty’s gravity soaked up most of the Tiger defense’s attention, and Mercep created constant opportunities for his teammates.

“That’s where the versatility of the game comes in,” Mercep said. “That’s what’s really important: If you don’t have a lot of space and other people are more open, then you need to give them that pass … to make it as easy as possible for them to score or put them in a successful position. And I’m happy anytime I can do that for my team.”

The Pacific offensive game plan was simple: Feed the center forward. USC countered with their signature high press from the opening sprint. The Trojans played with a controlled aggression,  forcing retreats and poor passes without picking up many exclusions. Pacific was forced to throw the ball around the perimeter for most of the first period, unable to break down the USC defense.

“They did well. They stayed in the press long enough,” Head Coach Marko Pintaric said. “We did [well] from that press into the zone to stop [Bogdan Djerkovic]. So, I’m actually happy the way they executed that.”

As the game continued, Pacific settled down into its offensive sets. In the second quarter, a few exclusions forced USC to drop deeper to cover the middle of the pool, allowing Pacific to move forward and initiate their offense closer to the goal. But senior goalie Nic Porter stayed calm and saved 9 shots.

“Nic Porter is the best goalie in the country hands down,” Barker said. “So regardless, he cleans up a lot of mistakes for us.”

Each time the Tigers threatened to turn it into a competitive game, the Trojans scored a pair and extended their lead. It was like a game of cat and mouse, with USC relenting and giving Pacific a glimmer of hope, only to stifle it with a few clinching goals. 

“It was the commitment to the tasks that we said we were going to execute,” Pintaric said. “We executed more than we didn’t … The score speaks for itself.”

USC will play its first MPSF conference game against UC Berkeley Saturday at 12 p.m.