Courtesy: USC Athletics
No. 3 USC sets up to play host to half of the action at this year’s Overnght/MPSF Invitational, running Sept. 22-24 at Uytengsu Aquatics Center and UCLA’s Spieker Aquatics Center. The Trojans open their run at the tournament with a Friday (Sept. 22) meeting against Pomona-Pitzer at 1:30 p.m. in USC’s home waters. A win there would put the Trojans up against either UC Davis or Santa Clara at 1:30 p.m. on Saturday (Sept. 23) to fight for a spot in a 6:30 p.m. semifinal match that evening. On Sunday (Sept. 24), placement games are set with USC hosting the winner’s bracket. The championship game takes place at 1 p.m., preceded by an 11:30 a.m. third-place games at Uytengsu Aquatics Center. All games will be streaming at overnght.com.
USC started the 2023 season ranked No. 2 in the national preseason poll and tied at No. 2 in the preseason MPSF Coaches Poll. Currently 6-1 overall, USC is ranked No. 3 in the nation for the second straight week as of the latest set of national rankings (released Sept. 20).
USC was in a winning groove in a double day of action at Uytengsu Aquatics Center, taking down No. 11 UC Santa Barbara 16-8 before posting a 13-8 comeback win in an exhibition meeting with Golden West. Now 6-1 overall on the year, the Trojans saw 11 players score against the Gauchos and 12 strike against the Rustlers.
#3 USC 16, #11 UCSB 8
Luka Brnetic had a career-high three goals in place after just eight minutes of action to set the tone in USC’s win over UC Santa Barbara. The Trojans led it 5-1 to that point, with Tom McGuire and Tony Nardelli joining the offensive action. Meanwhile, the USC defense stymied the Gauchos for almost 14 full minutes across the first two frames while the Trojans built out an 8-1 lead. Joshua Waldoch, Andrej Grgurevic and Carson Kranz each got to the back of the net in the second before UCSB managed a breakthrough on a 6-on-5 just before halftime to make it 8-2. The Gauchos got some offense going in the third, tallying three goals around strikes from Zach Bettino and Kranz as the score stood at 10-5 entering the fourth. There, the Trojans’ hands heated up to the tune of six goals in the final eight minutes. While Kranz locked in a hat trick for himself, Bettino blasted another, and Max Miller, Evan Ausmus, Jake Carter and Aidan Wattson all joined the scoresheet to make it a 16-8 final. Bernardo Herzer manned the cage for USC in this one, making eight stops.
– JR Luka Brnetic scored a career-high three goals — all in the first period — against UC Santa Barbara.
– SR Carson Kranz matched his career high with three goals scored vs. UCSB.
– With his goal vs. UCSB, SR Max Miller has now scored in a team-high six games this season, matching Massimo Di Martire.
– USC is now 78-13-2 all-time against UC Santa Barbara with wins in the past four meetings.
BY THE NUMBERS
Massimo Di Martire and Max Miller are currently spearheading USC’s scoring charge with 13 goals apiece. Di Martire, Miller and Joshua Waldoch have each scored in a team-high six USC games to date. The Trojans’ assists leader is senior Tom McGuire with 17, while Di Martire and Evan Ausmus top the steals board with 10 apiece. Miller and fellow two-meter man Tony Nardelli have combined for 37 drawn exclusions, with Nardelli leading the count with 20 through seven games of work. On the defensive end, three goalies have seen time in the cage, with redshirt sophomore Bernardo Herzer capping up in four games apiece and redshirt sophomore Eric Hubner checking for three. In their respective USC debuts, Herzer (12 saves vs. Pomona-Pitzer) and freshman Charles Mills (13 saves vs. Biola) set career highs. All told, USC’s goalkeeping corps is averaging 9.6 saves per game. As a team, USC has outscored its opponents 100-55 for an average of 14.3 goals per game offensively and 7.9 goals-against per game defensively. The USC defense has held opponents scoreless in eight periods of play.
BACK FOR MORE
USC returns over half of its 2022 NCAA roster, including All-American and MPSF Newcomer of the Year Massimo Di Martire, who led the Trojans in scoring with 63 goals in the 2022 season — seven of those goals scored in the NCAA Tournament. Senior captain Carson Kranz and junior Luka Brnetic also return as All-MPSF honorees, with Kranz and Max Miller tabbed as team captains for 2023. Brnetic and Reed Stemler are seasoned hole guards ready to shut down any moves at two-meters. In front of the cage as well will be senior captain Miller and Tony Nardelli, each bringing valuable experience in their fourth years as centers. Newcomer Connor Cohen and sophomore Zac Crenshaw also add size and power to that spot for the Trojans. Back in the water for his sophomore season, Andrej Grgurevic spent his summer playing with the Australian Junior National Team. Grgurevic scored 21 goals as a true freshman last season.
With the graduation of some powerful left-handed shooters, sophomore Jack Vort, freshman Zach Bettino and redshirt freshman Charlie Saunders are ready to step up on the 4-6 side, joined by righties Di Martire and Jake Carter, who are proven sharpshooters on that side of the pool. Working on the 1-2 side is a group of guys making an impact with their utility and speed on both sides of the pool in returners Evan Ausmus, Tom McGuire, Joshua Waldoch and Aidan Wattson.
The Trojans’ goalie squad is ripe with skill and size, with 6-foot-7 Eric Hubner bringing upperclassman experience and 6-6 Bernardo Herzer coming off a redshirt year. Incoming freshman goalies Charles Mills and Cooper Mathisrud further bolster USC in the cage as the group competes for playing time as the backbone of the Trojan defense.
The balance of the 2023 USC squad is rounded out by new additions to the roster. Stanford transfer Jack Martin and Serbian newcomer Stefan Brankovic are raising the level of competition in practice for the younger additions of Spencer Averitt, Chase Landa, Luke Nelson and Will Sanchez. Each player on the roster has an opportunity to make an impact on the way to NCAAs.
Marko Pintaric, who has been part of 14 NCAA championships during his 21 years on the USC coaching staff, is in his fifth year at the helm of the Trojan men’s program. Last season, he guided the Trojans to an 18th consecutive NCAA appearance, reaching the NCAA final for the 17th time in that span. An All-American and 1998 NCAA champion as a player at USC, Pintaric served as co-head coach for the USC men for three seasons (2016-18), most recently helping the Trojans to the 2018 NCAA Championship. His USC coaching career began as an assistant coach to both the USC men and women in 2001. Pintaric stayed in a dual coaching role until NCAA rules for coaching staff sizes changed in 2015-16, prompting a move to a scouting director role with the women while his assistant coaching role continued with the men for the next four years.
USC’s 2022 campaign saw the Trojans win the MPSF Tournament championship in order to clinch an 18th straight trip to the NCAA tourney. USC finished up undefeated at home and posted a 20-7 overall record after a run to the NCAA title match, where USC fell in a one-goal loss to host Cal. At season’s end, USC had four players earn ACWPC All-America honors in First Team picks Jake Ehrhardt, Massimo Di Martire and Ashworth Molthen along with second-team selection Kyle McKenney. Ehrhardt also was picked as a finalist for the 2022 Peter J. Cutino Award. •