Men's Water Polo
    No. 3 USC Sets Off To Keep Streaks Alive At MPSF Tournament

    USC unites in Long Beach this week to make a run at another MPSF Tournament title.
    Nov. 19, 2014

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    THIS WEEK
    USC has the No. 3 seed into the 2014 MPSF Tournament in-hand as the Trojans enter the postseason in similar position to last year. En route to defying the odd and becoming the first collegiate water polo program to win six straight NCAA Championships, the Trojans were facing a tough road in order to even qualify for a shot at the NCAA tourney. This season, USC again carries a four-loss record into the MPSF Tournament, although the Trojans (21-4) have upgraded their seed to No. 3 for this 2014 campaign. A powerful performance at this year's MPSF tourney can help bulk up the defending champs' resume. First up in the push to win another MPSF crown and make a run at a seventh straight national title will be an opening matchup against No. 6 seeded UC Irvine (15-11). USC will face the Anteaters at 11:30 a.m. on Friday (Nov. 21) at Long Beach State's Ken Lindgren Aquatics Center. A win there would put the Trojans in a 3 p.m. semifinal game on Saturday (Nov. 22). The MPSF Championship bout is set for 3 p.m. on Sunday (Nov 23) preceded by a 1:30 p.m. third-place game -- all in Long Beach.

    THE LAST MEETING
    USC14
    UC Irvine10
    November 9, 2014
    Irvine, Calif.
    No. 3 USC Takes Down UC Irvine 14-10
    The No. 3 USC men's water polo team whipped up another important MPSF win today, rolling up a 14-10 victory over No. 12 host UC Irvine. It was a big day for freshman goalie McQuin Baron, who slammed down 18 saves in backing up the Trojan defense. Fellow freshman Bryce Hoerman also topped the USC offensive charge with a hat trick to help pace the Trojans to victory. USC improves to 20-4 overall and is now up to 5-2 in MPSF play with one more regular-season game on deck. The Trojans will host California at 10:30 a.m. on Saturday (Nov. 15).

    THE LAST MEETING
    Long Beach City College6
    USC15
    September 26, 2009
    McDonald's Swim Stadium
    MPSF TOURNAMENT CENTRAL

    RANKINGS
    The six-time defending NCAA champion Trojans entered 2014 ranked No. 2 in the nation in the preseason poll. USC moved to No. 3 for the next two weeks, and was at No. 4 for three weeks. The Trojans worked back to the No. 1 slot for the week of Oct. 13, but have been placed at No. 3 in the past four national polls.

    THIS TIME LAST YEAR
    USC was 23-4 overall and the No. 4 seed in the 2012 MPSF Tournament, which was hosted by Pacific. USC opened up with a 12-9 win over California in the first round and then topped top-seeded host Pacific 18-13 in the semifinals to square off against Stanford in the title match. In the final, USC handled the Cardinal with a 10-9 victory to lock in on the Trojans' second consecutive and ninth overall MPSF Tournament title and sew up the top seed for the NCAA Championships en route to USC's sixth consecutive national championship.

    AND NOW...
    This year, the Trojans are looking for their third straight and 10th overall MPSF Tournament title and an automatic berth into the coming 2014 NCAA Championships, where USC hopes to defend its six straight national championships. USC (21-4) has beaten all its MPSF opponents except for Stanford at least once this season, but losses to the Cardinal and to UCLA in MPSF regular-season action have the Trojans as the No. 3 seed in this year's MPSF Tournament. UCLA (25-2) takes the top seed, followed by No. 2 seeded Stanford (22-3). Tournament host Long Beach State (18-6) is seeded No. 4 behind the Trojans (21-4), followed by No. 5 seed California (20-6), No. 6 UC Irvine (15-11) and with Pepperdine (10-13) grabbing the No. 7 seed. Pacific (14-11) and UC Santa Barbara (9-13) will face off in the play-in game to earn the No. 8 seed.

    LAST WEEK
    USC saw its seniors make a statement in their last career game at their home pool last week. Senior Marc Vonderweidt saved up a season-high three goals for a crucial test against No. 5 California. Fellow senior Kostas Genidounias matched that mark, and freshman Mihajlo Milicevic served up what would stand as the winner in USC's 7-6 victory over the visiting Golden Bears. The game had all the makings of a nailbiter, opening as a true defensive battle. USC goalie McQuin Baron and Cal's Jon Sibley matched each other save for save during the first half, while USC's seniors took care of the offensive action at the other end for the Trojans. The teams stayed in stride through the first half, with Vonderweidt scoring twice and Genidounias plugging one in as well for a 3-3 lockup at halftime. The Trojan defense was in total control of the third period of play. Baron hauled in some huge saves and even served up the assist on Genidounias' second goal of the day. Vonderweidt had his first hat trick of the year in the books soon after, and USC held a 5-3 advantage entering the fourth thanks to a defensive shutout of the Bears by the Trojans. Genidounias unleashed a ridiculous shot from near midpool to bump USC ahead a daunting 6-3, but the Bears fought right back, converting on back-to-back counterattack goals to chop down USC's lead to 6-5 in just over a minute's span. Twenty seconds later, it was USC freshman Milicevic who stepped up to the plate. Milicevic whipped in a crosscage blast that put USC ahead 7-5. Cal would convert on a power play to bring it to a one-goal margin, but could not come up with an equalizer as the Trojans pocketed the crucial 7-6 home victory. Before the game, USC honored its four graduating seniors, Rex Butler, Kostas Genidounias, Max Hurst-Mendoza and Marc Vonderweidt -- all members of past USC NCAA Championship teams and all of whom played key roles in the win for their final appearance at USC's Uytengsu Aquatics Center.

    MCQUIN MAKES MPSF MARK
    Freshman goalie McQuin Baron hauled in 31 saves across two MPSF wins, going big with a new career best of 18 saves at UC Irvine on Nov. 9. For his efforts in the cage for the Trojan cause, Baron was named the MPSF Player of the Week on Nov. 10. Baron began the important weekend of conference play with a 13-save outing in a 13-7 road win over No. 4 Long Beach State. That set the freshman up well for an even bigger 18-save day in which he allowed seven goals in just under four periods of work in an eventual 14-10 road win over #12 UC Irvine. With the first conference honor of his career, Baron becomes the second Trojan to be named MPSF Player of the Week this season, following sophomore Nick Bell's selection last month.

    BELL GOES BIG
    Sophomore Nick Bell had a career weekend in helping USC win the SoCal Tournament championship, totaling 10 goals over the four Trojan victories over that weekend. For his standout performance, Bell earned his first career selection as the MPSF Player of the Week on Oct. 13, becoming the first Trojan to win the award this year. In just his second game back from injury, Bell delivered his first career hat trick in USC's opening win over Air Force. He'd tally another goal in USC's next win over UC Santa Barbara. The following day, Bell went even bigger. The sophomore punched in four goals in USC's semifinal upset of host UCLA to mark a new career high for himself and set up his Trojans for the title match. There, Bell added two more goals to help USC edge out Cal 10-9 and win the Trojans' third straight SoCal Tournament crown. With 20 goals scored in his 12 appearances, Bell is currently averaging 1.7 goals per game for the Trojan cause.

    IT'S HAPPENED BEFORE...
    Before anyone gets too anxious about the back-to-back losses sustained by the Trojans at the NorCal Tournament, rest assured that USC has fought back from similar stumbles in recent seasons, all the while continuing to build on its historic NCAA championship win streak. Back in 2011, USC lost two in a row as it stumbled to a fourth-place finish at the SoCal Tournament. The Trojans would regroup, however, avenging both those losses and powering on to win a fourth consecutive national championship. Last week's loss to Cal snapped a six-game win streak against the Golden Bears, who last beat the Trojans in 2010 during MPSF play -- a 12-9 decision in Cal's favor. That same season, though, saw USC avenge that loss in the finest of forms. The Trojans would beat the Bears in overtime at Cal's own pool to claim the 2010 NCAA Championship -- USC's third straight title. In four of USC's nine championship season, the Trojans have taken three or more total losses.

    BY THE NUMBERS
    Now 25 games into 2014, the Trojans have been putting up some big numbers. Led by Kostas Genidounias with 70 goals, Rex Butler with 39 and Matteo Morelli with 32, there are a grand total of 12 Trojans with at least 15 goals apiece. Six of them are freshmen and four are seniors, exhibiting some dangerous balance for USC. To date, USC has outscored opponents 379-167 -- more than double its foes' scoring count to date. Defensively, USC is allowing just 6.68 goals per game, having held opponents scoreless in the third quarter in eight games.

    KOSTAS ON THE CLIMB
    Three-time All-American senior Kostas Genidounias has been on the rise in the USC scoring ranks throughout his time at Troy. Named the 2014 KAP7 NorCal Classic MVP, he's the Trojans' top scorer this season with 70 goals to date, giving him 249 in his career to rank No. 2 all-time in career scoring. Nikola Vavic stands at No. 1 with 254 career goals. That puts Genidounias six goals from taking over the top spot. Stay tuned!

    CULTURE CLUB
    USC's NCAA championship streak began while this incoming freshman class was still in middle school. So although the 2014 Trojan newcomers haven't experienced winning a national championship firsthand -- yet -- they certainly are familiar with the culture of winning that has been built at Troy. Every other member of the USC roster has at least one national championship ring in his trophy case. The senior class of four Trojans, meanwhile, have played in a combined eight NCAA Tournaments in the past three seasons. Three of those seniors -- Rex Butler, Kostas Genidounias and Marc Vonderweidt -- have experience from USC's 2012 and 2013 title matches. That trio, along with Nick Bell, Mac Carden and Max Hurst-Mendoza all combined forces for USC in last season's championship victory. To be sure, USC's championship savvy is still very much in effect.

    BUILT TO LAST
    Everybody was calling it a "rebuilding year." Everybody, that is, except USC head coach Jovan Vavic. His group of 22 newcomers for 2014 looks to be built to last. Nine of those freshmen have already logged some serious minutes in the early goings of the 2014 season. Team USA goalie McQuin Baron has the starting nod in the cage, but he's not the only newcomer with experience in international waters. Four players from four different countries have arrived from overseas to join the Trojans this year. Australian National Teamer Lachlan Edwards is posting up for the Trojans, following in the footsteps of another Aussie two-meter man -- All-American Jeremy Davie, who played four years and won four titles as a Trojan. Mihajlo Milicevic comes to Troy from Serbia; Lazar Pasuljevic hails from Montenegro; and Matteo Morelli joins the Trojans from Italy. Adding to the depth charge in the new class are a set of solid stars from more local waters. In addition to goalies Baron and Ben Goncharenko, California has produced some mighty field players to bolster the Trojan cause. Bryce Hoerman, Grant Stein and James Walters headline that crew, which offers up some impressive flexibility and skill in which Vavic already has early confidence. In all, seven USC freshmen have combined for 173 total goals to date, while the entirety of the goalkeeping duties has been handled by freshmen Baron and Goncharenko.

    LUCKY NUMBER SEVEN?
    USC has played in the NCAA championship game 10 times in the past 11 years. Eight national titles have come during that span. But it isn't just a place in another final that USC is aiming for. No, for 2014 the Trojans once again have just one mission. USC has won six consecutive titles, and making it seven in a row would also bring the men's program its 10th national championship.

    TOP GUNS
    Seniors Kostas Genidounias and Rex Butler represent a potent one-two punch for the Trojans. The righty-lefty duo give USC dangerous scoring options from both sides of the pool, and they've been effective in their Trojan careers to date. Genidounias whipped in 80 goals (third most in program history) for USC last season as a junior, giving him a career count of 179 to rank him No. 4 all-time entering 2014. Butler scored 40 goals last year, giving him 69 overall as he pursues a spot in the 100-goal club by the close of his Trojan career. That pair stands out as USC's top returning scorers, but Nick Bell, Mac Carden and Marc Vonderweidt have also proven to pack some scoring punch of their own. All three scored 18 goals apiece last season. This year, Bell was sidelined for the first 11 games but has jumped right back in full force. Bell, Carden and USC's senior crew of Butler, Genidounias, Max Hurst-Mendoza and Vonderweidt have combined for 182 goals to date. What's more, Butler recently nailed his 100th career goal, becoming the 32nd Trojan to hit the mark. He just took over at No. 29 all-time with 108 goals to beat out current associate head coach Marko Pintaric, who scored 103 career goals in his Trojan career.

    CAGE FIGHTERS
    The only position dominated wholly by freshmen is in the cage-- previously occupied by Olympians Joel Dennerley and James Clark for the past six seasons. And yet coach Vavic is as confident in his goalies as anywhere else. McQuin Baron looms large as the starter, bringing in his 6-foot-9-inch frame fresh from a summer of experience with the U.S National Team. Fellow freshman Ben Goncharenko also has proven his worth handily. USC has been in capable hands with Goncharenko as a backup and as a starter. He boasts a complete shutout of Occidental, and averages 5.5 saves and 4.8 goals-against per game in his nine appearances. Baron, meanwhile, has capped up in 22 games, hauling in 11.3 saves per game and allowing 6.9 goals-against per game.

    2013 RECAP
    USC became the first collegiate water polo team ever to win six consecutive national championships when the Trojans finished off their 2013 campaign with five straight wins, claiming the MPSF Championship before making a victorious run to win the 2013 NCAA Championship. An overtime win over Pacific in the title match notched a 28-4 overall record for the Trojans while grabbing the program's ninth national crown. Senior Nikola Vavic finished his career as USC's all-time leading scorer, was named National Player of the Year and was again a finalist for the Cutino Award. Kostas Genidounias, too, was named a Cutino Award finalist, and was one of six All-Americans from the 2013 season along with Vavic, James Clark, Jeremy Davie, Mace Rapsey and Connor Virjee. In all, the Trojan offense -- charged by 21 different scorers -- averaged 15.3 goals per game, while the defense allowed 6.7 goals against per game. USC outscored opponents 490-213 in 2013, marking the most goals scored in a year by the Trojans since at least 1983.

    FIGHTING ON FOR JON
    On Jan. 8, 2014, the Trojan Family lost a special member in the passing of USC freshman Jon Walters. At 19 years old, Walters was an NCAA Champion, beloved teammate and a Trojan warrior for the USC men's water polo team. His loss has touched the Trojan Family and the water polo world deeply, and the USC water polo program will be playing with Jon in their hearts this season and beyond. As a first-year freshman 2-meter man, Jon Walters was a key contributor on USC's 2013 NCAA championship men's water polo team that won a sixth consecutive NCAA title in December. He scored 17 goals on the year, including two in the NCAA semifinal game and another two in the MPSF championship game, despite missing the middle part of the season with an elbow injury. A native of Newport Beach, he attended Mater Dei High School, where he was an All-American and the 2012 CIF Player of the Year. Jon's younger brother James is a freshman on this 2014 USC team. •