Men's Water Polo
    USC Opens NCAA Title Defense With Play-in Game On Saturday

    The Trojans get to play one more game at home, hosting Whittier this Saturday at 10 a.m.
    Nov. 26, 2014

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    THIS WEEK
    USC takes a slightly different path toward defense of its string of national championships this year. After entering the NCAA Tournament as the No. 1 seed in the past nine seasons, the 2014 Trojans have picked up the No. 3 seed for this year's campaign. That puts USC (22-6) in a play-in game this weekend to fight for a spot in next weekend's NCAA semifinals against Stanford at UC San Diego. Standing in the way of the Trojans and that trip to La Jolla is No. 6 seeded Whittier (23-12). USC will host the Poets in the NCAA Play-in game this Saturday (Nov. 29) at 10 a.m. at Uytengsu Aquatics Center.

    THE LAST MEETING
    Whittier2
    USC23
    September 28, 2013
    Uytengsu Aquatics Center
    No. 2 Trojans Go Big In Victorious Home Openers
    In a day that saw 13 different Trojans hit the back of the net, it was the defense that stole the show for the No. 2 USC men's water polo team today in its home openers. In fact, it was a knack for steals that helped USC rack up goals as the Trojans piled up a 22-4 win over Princeton and then a 23-2 win over Whittier in a busy morning at Uytengsu Aquatics Center. USC improves to 12-1 overall with today's two wins.

    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, and are now slotted at No. 4 after spending four weeks at No. 3.

    MPSF RECAP
    USC finished up in fourth place at the MPSF Tournament last weekend, after appearing in the third-place game for the first time since 2009. The Trojans opened up the tournament on a powerful note, ramping up with a 12-5 win over UC Irvine on the hands of eight different scorers. USC kicked out to a 5-0 lead on the Anteaters, coming just 21 seconds away from a first-half shutout. USC's Nick Bell tacked up two goals in that first offensive surge by the Trojans, with Mihajlo Milicevic, Kostas Genidounias and James Walters plugging in goals of their own to craft that 5-0 lead. UC Irvine broke its silence just before halftime, but the damage was already done and the Trojans would keep rolling in the next two frames to finish out the solid win. That put USC in a semifinal bout against Stanford the next day. USC seniors Rex Butler and Marc Vonderweidt each scored twice as the Trojans and the Cardinal were locked up 4-4 entering the final period of play, but it was Stanford that found the winning groove as USC misfired down the stretch to fall 7-4 to the Cardinal. That put the Trojans up against UCLA in the third-place game, and USC found itself off-balance from the start. Hamstrung by a slow start that had the Trojans in an early 4-0 hole, USC finally got on the board with a score from Vonderweidt. But the Bruins just kept clicking and USC just couldn't keep up in this one. Genidounias would lead the Trojans with three goals, and in doing so he pulled even at the No. 1 all-time scoring spot, now tied with Nikola Vavic with 254 career goals. But the Bruins would win the day with a final 10-5 victory that left USC in fourth place at the MPSF Tournament. With five goals scored at the tourney, Genidounias was named to the MPSF All-Tournament Team for the third straight season. The fourth-place finish is the lowest since taking fifth at the conference tourney in 2002.

    THE CONTENDERS
    The 2014 National Collegiate Championships follows the same format as was introduced last season, with six teams in the mix as opposed to four in past years. The top two seeds earn a place in the semifinal round, where they will await winners of play-in games between the No. 3-6 seeded teams. This year, UCLA (27-3) has picked up the top seed, with MPSF Tournament champion Stanford (25-3) the No. 2 seed in the opposite semifinal. The third MPSF team in the mix, USC (22-6) has picked up the No. 3 seed, followed by the automatic bids from other conference tournaments. Western Water Polo Association winner UC San Diego (15-9) is seeded at No. 4 for the second year running; Collegiate Water Polo Association champ Brown (26-6) is the No. 5 seed; and Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference winner Whitter (23-12) is seeded No. 6 for the second straight year. While the Trojans are making their 10th straight trip to the tournament, Stanford is making its second consecutive appearance and UCLA is back in after missing the cut in 2013. Brown is making its first trip to the NCAA Tournament since 1990.

    THE MATCHUPS
    USC vs. UCLA
    All-time: 65-49-1
    This season: 1-3
    Last: L 10-5 (MPSF 3rd Place - Nov. 23, 2014)
    Last in NCAA Tourn.: W 11-10 (2012 final)

    USC vs. Stanford
    All-time: 58-59
    This season: 0-2
    Last: L 7-4 (MPSF Semifinal - Nov. 22, 2014)
    Last in NCAA Tourn.: W 7-5 (2008 final)

    USC vs. UC San Diego
    All-time: 33-2
    This season: None
    Last: W 17-4 (Sept. 14, 2013)
    Last in NCAA Tourn.: L 9-8 (2000 semi)

    USC vs. Brown
    All-time: 6-0
    This season: None
    Last: W 13-4 (Oct. 12, 2013)
    Last in NCAA Tourn.: W 10-7 (2010 semi)

    USC vs. Whittier
    All-time: 4-0
    This season: None
    Last: W 23-2 (Sept. 28, 2013)
    Last in NCAA Tourn.: None

    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 became the second Trojan to be named MPSF Player of the Week this season, following sophomore Nick Bell's selection last month. Entering the NCAA Tournament, Baron has collected 259 total saves this season, marking the third most in program history. The record was set by Andrew Tinseth in 1993 with 268 saves, putting Baron 10 saves away from breaking the record this season.

    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 22 goals scored in his 15 appearances, Bell is currently averaging 1.5 goals per game for the Trojan cause.

    BY THE NUMBERS
    On the way into NCAA action, the Trojans have put up big numbers. Led by Kostas Genidounias with 75 goals, Rex Butler with 43 and Matteo Morelli with 37, 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 400-189 -- more than double its foes' scoring count to date. Defensively, USC is allowing just 6.85 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 75 goals to date. His hat trick in the MPSF third-place game bumped the senior up to tie at No. 1 all-time in career scoring alongside Nikola Vavic. One more goal, though, and Genidounias will take sole possession as the Trojans' top scorer in program history. Stay tuned!

    SENIORS SHINING
    USC's senior class has shouldered the load for the Trojans in the late stages of this 2014 season. In particular, seniors Kostas Genidounias and Marc Vonderweidt have come up huge, handling the bulk of the USC scoring in the past four games. Of the 28 USC goals scored in the last four games, Genidounias and Vonderweidt have provided over half of the scoring, with 15 goals between them. Genidounias has tallied eight -- pulling even at No. 1 all-time in career goals with his hat trick vs. UCLA -- while Vonderweidt has punched in seven, including a career-high three in a tight win over Cal. Fellow senior Rex Butler also contributed four goals in this recent stretch.

    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 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 178 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. 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 198 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. 27 all-time with 112 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 5.1 saves and 5.3 goals-against per game in his 10 appearances. Baron, meanwhile, has capped up in 25 games, hauling in 11.02 saves per game and allowing 6.85 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. •