Trojans prepare for NCAA tournament in search of 11th national title

Ashworth Molthen celebrates a goal.
Redshirt senior Ashworth Molthen earned a place on the MPSF All-Tournament team after a consistent offensive performance last weekend. (Tomoki Chien | Daily Trojan)

Men’s water polo heads to Berkeley this weekend for the NCAA championship tournament and a shot at the program’s 11th national title. After going undefeated last weekend and securing a Mountain Pacific Sports Federation championship, USC enters the NCAA tournament as the No. 3 seed. 

Last weekend, the Trojans dominated at Uytengsu Aquatic Center, beating UCLA and Stanford in the semifinal and final games. USC was never behind the entire weekend, and their wins secured the Trojans a spot in their 18th consecutive NCAA tournament. 

“Last weekend, we really proved what we can do as a team,” said freshman utility Andrej Grgurevic. “I feel like we have [real] potential this year to do something great.” 

This was USC’s 12th MPSF championship, but their first with Head Coach Marko Pintaric and their first since 2017. After scoring 9 goals over the weekend, redshirt senior 2-meter Jake Ehrhardt was named the 2022 MPSF Men’s water polo tournament MVP. Ehrhardt is now No. 7 in all-time career goals, with USC men’s water polo and totals 51 goals for this season alone. 

But Erhardt isn’t the only Trojan to make the 2022 MPSF All-Tournament Team. Redshirt senior driver Ashworth Molthen, graduate student driver Massimo Di Martire and graduate student goalie Kyle McKenney all secured All-Tournament honors. 

Last weekend was the fourth time the Trojans faced crosstown rival UCLA this season. After three nail-biting contests that ended in defeat, USC finally pulled out a win. After the Trojans dominated the first three quarters, UCLA attempted a comeback from behind – something the Trojans are all too familiar with after previous games they’ve played this season against the Bruins. However, USC held their own, and with game-changing saves by McKenney, they took their first win over the Bruins this season. 

There’s a good chance USC will match up against UCLA again this weekend, but this fact has not affected the Trojans’ confidence in their success. When asked how confident he felt that this team could take home a title, senior driver Marcus Longton simply said, “100 percent confident.” 

“I think that our team has seen the most improvement out of every team in the conference so far this year,” Longton said. “I think we’re the closest we’ve ever been and I think we’re ready, and we’re all so excited.” 

The first matchup of the weekend is against Princeton, who is 27-5 overall this season and coming off a 13-game winning streak. The Tigers have broken their own school record of wins this season by one game, and despite coming in as the underdog, the Tigers have something to prove. 

“It’s going to be really tough, probably the hardest tournament and the hardest three games of the year,”  Grgurevic said. 

This is Grgurevic’s first NCAA tournament, and the uncertainty is equally as exciting as it is daunting. His strategy aligns closely with what the Trojans have been doing all season: “leave everything in the tank.” 

“It’s the last three games of the season,” Grgurevic said. “As long as… you gave it your [all], played the best you can, you can be happy going away with it.” 

Longton’s mindset as a veteran of the tournament is a bit more refined — and, as a senior, more nostalgic as well. 

“[The] strategy is to take it one step at a time, one game at a time, one quarter at a time,” said Longton. “Live in the moment and control what we can control.” 

In his final year as a Trojan, Longton’s hopes for the tournament are to take home a long-awaited title.

“This will be my last couple games suiting up with USC,” Longton said. “Obviously it’s incredibly emotional, that goes for all the seniors, and I know there’s only one perfect way to cap off our season and that’s with a national championship.” 

USC enters their final showdowns of the season with an 18-6 record overall, and an undefeated record at home. The Trojans will face Princeton Thursday at 5:00 p.m. at Spieker Aquatic Complex in Berkeley, and if they can secure a win against the Tigers, they will take on UCLA for the last time this season in the semifinal match Saturday at 4:00 p.m.