Men’s water polo aims to bounce back

The Trojans look to sweep a home doubleheader after a crushing defeat last week.

Graduate diver Massimo Di Martire lead the Trojans with two goals last weekend, but they suffered their first loss of the season to No. 1 Cal. (Ethan Thai / Daily Trojan)

The No. 3 ranked USC men’s water polo team will seek to rebound from a disappointing weekend Saturday with a doubleheader at home against No. 11 UC Santa Barbara and Golden West College.

The Trojans dropped from second in the rankings after a 12-5 loss to No. 1 UC Berkeley last Saturday, who has defeated USC in the last two national championship games. While a bounceback 12-10 win Sunday against No. 8 UC Irvine provided a boost, the team was left frustrated by yet another loss at the hands of the Golden Bears.

“It was tough to wake up on Sunday morning and go down to Irvine … and it was tough to refocus after things didn’t go our way on Saturday,” said senior driver Tom McGuire. “[But] I think we were able to fix some things that went wrong in the Cal game overnight, so it was good to see the improvement.”

USC has made the NCAA final in 17 of the last 18 seasons, falling in the semi-final in 2019. This weekend’s contests are another chance for the Trojans to use that disappointment to fuel a return to their winning ways.

“I know how much harder I worked this weekend personally, to get ready for UCI the same night, and the way I’m getting ready from now on for upcoming games,” said Head Coach Marko Pintaric. “I think the team chemistry is phenomenal outside of the water, and the guys are just finding their chemistry in the water right now.”

This week’s preparation is centered around ensuring that this weekend’s opponents are not underestimated, especially in the wake of back-to-back matchups with top 10 teams. USC took care of business against unranked teams in 2022 but will need to focus on the tougher opponents. All seven of the Trojans’ losses came against teams in the top five of the national rankings. 

“Top teams may be a little more disciplined, but that doesn’t take anything away from the lower ranked teams,” said redshirt junior utility Joshua Waldoch. “They still have the firepower and the individual players, so we really need to prepare just like we would for Cal.”

UCSB has started the season 7-4 and played a very competitive game against USC in 2022, losing 10-6. Its losses this season have all come at the hands of top 15 opponents: No. 1 Cal, No. 2 UCLA, and No. 11 California Baptist. 

“They’re a pretty fast team, and they have a pretty strong center; they are very similar to Cal in that sense. So we will probably stick with a similar game plan,” McGuire said.

The matchup with Golden West is an exhibition game, and Pintaric plans to take advantage of the opportunity to provide in-game experience to some of the squad’s less experienced players. 

McGuire’s advice for the debutantes? “When they go in there, don’t be scared to mess up anything,” he said. “Just go in there, try to play as freely as possible, and don’t have that fear in the back of your head.”

The home doubleheader marks the start of a seven-game stretch for USC at Uytengsu Aquatics Center, where the team went 7-0 in 2022. Despite the home opener loss against Cal, the Trojans feel very confident on their stomping grounds.

“You feel more comfortable at home because this is your training environment … and I know the guys are always fired up to play in front of the home crowd,” Pintaric said.

USC will take on UCSB at 1:00 p.m. and Golden West at 2:30 p.m. at Uytengsu Aquatics Center Saturday.

© University of Southern California/Daily Trojan. All rights reserved.