2016 USC Men's Water Polo Season Outlook|
Sept. 8, 2016
It's almost unheard of.
As the 2016 season gets underway, USC men's water polo welcomes back every one of its eight All-Americans. That's right, eight. That means the Trojans will have All-American talent warming the bench when the whistle blows on every opening sprint. That means firepower, experience and daunting skill is available at every turn for the Trojans. And that's not even counting the young blood that USC has as an added depth charge for 2016.
Head coach Jovan Vavic has had his Trojans within striking distance of adding to its NCAA trophy case the past two seasons. Every season since winning the 2005 NCAA Championship, USC has worked its way into the national title match. From 2008 to 2013, USC won it all every time, collecting six consecutive NCAA trophies in that historic run.
For 2016, Vavic and his arsenal of talented Trojans have every intention of fighting back to the NCAA final for the 12th straight season and have every expectation of being the team holding the championship trophy high at season's end.
"Having all that All-American talent means that we have some experience rather than the last two years where we were kind of young and untested," Vavic said. "We are a little more of a veteran team now. And if you look at all the NCAAs the last 20 or 30 years, its usually the veteran team that prevails in the end."
USC took seven total losses last year, but found a way to win some big games at just the right time in order to keep that daunting NCAA final streak intact. In fact, it is the bitter memory of losses that Vavic feels can galvanize a team. USC also lost back-to-back NCAA finals in 2006 and 2007. The next year, the Trojans were manufacturing a six-year streak of championship victories. With lessons learned and commitment to the cause, Vavic knows his Trojans can break through once again.
"I know that we have the talent and the pieces, and now we have experience," Vavic said. "If they really commit, I think it's going to be a great year."
This year, USC has just one senior on the roster in two-time All-American Nick Bell -- who was a member of USC's last NCAA championship team in 2013 as a freshman. Bell will be flanked by some powerful juniors who are hungry for their own taste of an NCAA crown. One of those juniors gathered in Olympic experience as a first-time Olympian in the 2016 Games with Team USA. All-American goalie McQuin Baron capped up for the United States in Rio and brings back a wealth of international savvy from his journeys, where he had another Trojan by his side in incoming freshman Thomas Dunstan. A lefty, Dunstan earned a spot on Team USA's Rio roster for his first taste of the Olympic dream in 2016, too, giving USC a pair of card-carrying Olympians on its roster for the first time since 1958.
A potent offensive force, Dunstan joins a pack of high-powered Trojans this year. In all, USC returns its top six scorers from 2015, including All-American honorees Blake Edwards, Grant Stein, Lachlan Edwards, Matteo Morelli and Bell, while defensive dangers Mihajlo Milicevic and James Walters also bring back their All-American talent to Troy for 2016. That crew of returning All-Americans accounted for 64 percent of USC's offensive output. Top scorer Blake Edwards scored 68 goals all on his own, tallying the sixth most single-season goals scored by a Trojan. Now in his second season at Troy, Edwards is a member of a ridiculously talented junior class. Fellow All-Americans Stein, Morelli, Walters, Milicevic and Lachlan Edwards are all now juniors, as are savvy scorers Bryce Hoerman and Lazar Pasuljevic. In fact, USC's top four scorers in 2015 are all also classmates: the Edwards brothers, Stein and Morelli.
USC's youth movement remains solid. In their first season of work as Trojans, Chase Koplow and Zach D'Sa combined for 32 goals, and both were members of USC's 2015 NCAA Tournament roster. That vital early experience should pay dividends for the Trojans, who have all but two members of that tournament roster back on active duty for 2016. USC's seasoned veterans will be bolstered by a group of talented new Trojans. Clearly, 2016 Olympian Dunstan already brings in some serious credentials for his freshman campaign, but there are several other USC newcomers tabbed for duty in 2016 along with a few Trojans who redshirted last season. True freshmen Marin Dasic and Matt Maier will also factor into the USC gameplan, while redshirt freshmen Sam Slobodien and Daniel Leong join the field along with goalie Simon Wu, who will back up Baron in the cage along with freshman Will Rubschlager.
Even more reliable talent in the Trojan pool comes in the form of redshirt junior Mitch Embrey, redshirt sophomores Tim Leong, Brock Hudnut and Murphy Slater, and redshirt freshman Daniel Leong, who round out the USC active roster for 2016.
Overall, Vavic points to power and versatility as trademarks of this talented Trojan roster.
"We are really, really talented," Vavic said. "At every position we have at least two maybe three players. Some of the young guys -- Maier and Dunstan and Dasic -- all these this guys have good size to add to our returners like Lachy, Nick, Blake, James, Mihajlo and Bryce, who are all big strong guys. We have the flexibility to put a unit in that is big and at other times a unit that has a lot of speed. We have really great depth and great size this year."
Safe to say you'll be hearing a lot from these Trojans in 2016.