Water polo goes undefeated over weekend

USC water polo defends their goal as an opponent readies to shoot.
Graduate student driver Massimo Di Martire was named the MPSF Newcomer of the Week. (Louis Chen | Daily Trojan)

The men’s water polo team cohesively flashed their strength at home and on the road, taking down No. 7 Long Beach State and Golden West College on Thursday and sweeping a double-header against Pomona-Pitzer and Claremont-Mudd-Scripps on Saturday. The Trojans improve to 6-1 on the season. 

In their first home game of the new season, the No. 3 ranked Trojans won 14-10 in a back-and-forth overtime affair against the Beach that featured six goals from graduate student driver Massimo Di Martire, a career high for him and a season high for any USC player. This game also marked USC’s 35th consecutive win over the Beach. 

USC started hot with a commanding 8-4 lead, thanks to a productive effort from redshirt sophomore goalie Blake Jackson — who finished with a career high 13 saves. The Beach stormed back and took the 9-8 lead with only 2:25 left in regulation time. However, a clutch goal from Di Martire with 1:31 left kept the Trojans alive and sent the game to overtime. 

USC’s offense took over in overtime, with redshirt senior 2-meter Jake Ehrhardt scoring the first goal to make it 10-9, followed by goals from redshirt senior driver Ashworth Molthen and three more from Di Martire to lead the Trojans to a 14-10 overtime win. 

“I don’t think we felt the pressure… we handled this pressure very good,” said Di Martire after the game. “The first game was pretty tough… we were supposed to close the game before, instead we brought the game to overtime, and we were good to close the game in the overtime.”  

Similar sentiments were shared by Jackson.

 “I really like how the team came together in overtime and won the game, so I was really happy about that … We are a really good overtime team, and we knew what we had to do,” said Jackson. 

Head Coach Marko Pintaric reflected on the importance of closing out overtime games.

“The only good thing about this whole day is I like this overtime. I like this pressure and it’s good for the guys to be exposed for that,” Pintaric said.

USC went on to play an exhibition match against Golden West College. With a hat trick from freshman driver Jack Vort, along with goals from freshman utility Andrej Grgurevic, junior 2-meter Tony Nardelli and sophomore driver Jake Carter, the Trojans defeated the Rustlers 13-9. 

USC carried the momentum from Thursday’s matches into Saturday’s Inland Empire Classic against Claremont-Mudd-Scripps (CMS) and Pomona-Pitzer (PP). The Trojans began the weekend red-hot, scoring eight consecutive goals — two of which came from driver Ashworth Molthen — and shutting the Stags out in the first period. 

The Stags shifted momentum in the second period, scoring four goals. The Trojans, however, quickly squashed any chance of a comeback, finishing with a 21-12 victory with 13 different Trojans scoring one or more goals. Senior driver Chris Sturtevant, Molten and Nardelli all finished with hat tricks in game one. Goalies Kyle McKenney and Eric Hubner platooned in the cage, totaling nine saves.

The second game of the day against Pomona-Pitzer yielded similar results. Jackson continued dominating at the net, allowing only three goals through two periods of play. Hubner also showed off his skills, preventing a goal in the third period. The offense possessed similar success. Molthen racked up another hat trick and 13 other Trojans scored goals, leading to a confident 19-8 victory against the Sagehens. 

Jackson noted the team’s improvement in chemistry as the season has progressed. 

“It’s going really well; it’s probably one of our strongest qualities,” said Jackson. 

However, there are aspects of the game that the team feels need to be improved — most notably, the defense. 

“We definitely have to work on defense more, especially in the fourth quarter. We gave up a lot of goals, which is pretty disappointing,” said Jackson. 

Coach Pintaric also noted the lack of defense in the fourth quarter and stressed the importance of “finding the best chemistry floor rotations and then offensively setting each other up better to create more high percentage opportunities.”

But the team has high hopes for the rest of the season.

 “I think we have to play for the title, and absolutely we are to be sure of our values,” said Di Martire. 

USC heads north Friday for a three game road trip, with a game against Pacific University at 5:30 p.m. in Stockton CA, followed by games against UC Davis and Navy on Sept. 17 in Davis.