Trojans swim across town to face UCLA

USC competes in water polo.
The men’s water polo team currently sits at third in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation West Standings. UC Berkeley and UCLA are ranked ahead of the Trojans. (Louis Chen | Daily Trojan)

The No. 3 Trojans head to Westwood, Calif. to face crosstown rival No. 2 UCLA Friday in their final conference matchup of the season. USC currently holds a 15-5 record as they finish off the regular season and approach the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation finals. 

After a crucial win against No. 4 Stanford at home last month, the Trojans are eager to take on competition and end MPSF Conference play on a high note. USC took down the Cardinal 19-14, with a team high 5 goals from redshirt senior 2-meter Jake Ehrhardt. Ehrhardt tied his goals per game career-high, as well as climbed to the number eight slot in USC Men’s Water Polo all-time scoring with 164 goals. 

Alongside Ehrhardt in lead scoring was senior driver Marcus Longton and redshirt senior driver Ashworth Molthen, who have scored in 19 and 16 games this season respectively. Graduate student driver Massimo Di Martire came out with 4 goals against the Cardinal, propelling him into his fourth MPSF Newcomer of the Week award this season. Utility Andrej Grgurevic’s six-on-five score helped secure the win against the Cardinal, and also marked the true freshman’s 19th goal of the season. 

The 19 goals scored by USC against Stanford were the most the Cardinal has given up against a team this season, and the most the Trojans have scored against Stanford in history. This was USC’s first time facing the Cardinal this season, but it will likely not be the last. 

As USC prepares to face the Bruins for the third time this season, they are anxious for a win as the previous two matchups have resulted in close losses. According to Ehrhardt, these losses have been due to USC faltering in the final moments of the game, not their skill in the water. 

“I think for this weekend, especially going into their pool, we’ve got to commit to sticking with the game plan the entire game,” Ehrhardt said. “Last time, we kind of got away from that, and we allowed ourselves to play into their game in the fourth quarter.” 

Longton also expressed the importance of finishing games strongly.

“It was a lot of us playing really well until the last couple of seconds and then losing our composure, losing our focus,” said Longton. “We’ve worked really hard to really focus on that crunchtime, those last five seconds of defense to really focus when it matters the most.” 

Their first contest back in September ended 6-8, despite two last minute goals by the Trojans attempting to come back from behind. Their second matchup, ending 12-13, had the Trojans and the Bruins in an intense back-and-forth toss-up for all four quarters. The Bruins snuck ahead in the final quarter to take the win, pushing them just one slot ahead of USC in the MPSF AP polls. 

“This game is huge. It’s going to allow us to have confidence going into the conference tournament here at home. It’s going to give us a lot of momentum,” Ehrhardt said. “Whatever happens this weekend, we’re going to be able to learn a lot… High pressure and big games like this always make a difference.” 

The Trojans are hungry for a win against their rival, and an upset this weekend has the potential to make waves across the top slots in the MPSF conference. UC Berkeley still holds the top spot in the conference as defending champions from last season, but second and third place titles going into the final MPSF tournament could shift with a USC upset over UCLA. 

“We’re extremely confident,” Longton said. “I think that we’ve been practicing incredibly well, and our team has only been improving throughout the year.” 

The Trojans will face off against the Bruins Friday at 1:00 p.m. at Spieker Aquatics Center, then return home on Nov. 18, 19 and 20, where USC will be hosting the 2022 MPSF Men’s Water Polo Championship.