No. 3 USC Men’s Water Polo Prepped For Sunday Home Clash With No. 10 Pacific

by SwimSwam 0

September 28th, 2023 NCAA/College Water Polo, Water Polo

Courtesy: USC Athletics

#3 USC (9-2) vs. #10 Pacific (5-2)
Sunday, Oct. 1 | 1 p.m.  | Uytengsu Aquatics Center
Series Record: USC leads 54-12 (L1)
Last Meeting: PAC 15, USC 13 (Oct. 1, 2022)

No. 3 USC tops off a three-week home stretch and starts off a new month of action against No. 10 Pacific this weekend. The Trojans (9-2) host the Tigers (5-2) at 1 p.m. on Sunday (Oct. 1) at Uytengsu Aquatics Center.

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 third straight week as of the latest set of national rankings (released Sept. 27).

USC played host and took third place at the competitive Overnght/MPSF Invitational over the weekend, getting two wins in group play before falling to rival UCLA in the semifinals. In the third-place game, USC fought out of a three-goal hole against Stanford and won it on a last-second score in overtime to improve to 9-2 overall on the year.

#3 USC 18, Pomona-Pitzer 8
USC had its goalies tagteam the cage for a combined 18 saves to help anchor the Trojans in their first game at the Overnght/MPSF Invitational. Bernardo Herzer collected eight saves in the first half, and Eric Hubner knocked down 10. USC poured out the first three goals of the game and later made a 7-0 surge in the second frame to put the Sagehens out of reach. Ten different Trojans scored in the first half to help net an 11-3 halftime lead, with Massimo Di Martire issuing back-to-back blasts during USC’s seven-goal rally. Max Miller and Evan Ausmus reached tallied their second goals of the day in the third, with Miller hammering one home at the post and Ausmus sizzling in a score to get USC ahead 13-4. Jake CarterZac Crenshaw and Luke Nelson joined the scoresheet next as USC went up 16-6 entering the fourth. There, two more fresh USC scorers broke through, with Connor Cohen and Charlie Saunders both capping off Trojan attacks to help round out the 18-8 USC win.

#3 USC 9, #8 UC Davis 3
USC shut out the Aggies in three periods of action thanks part to an 11-save outing by goalie Bernardo Herzer. The stingy Trojan defense silenced the Aggies for the first 11 minutes of play. Max Miller scored two of his final three goals during that early USC effort before UC Davis managed back-to-back scores to get one back at 3-2. Jake Carter and Massimo Di Martire would wrap blasts around UC Davis’ last goal of the game to lead it 5-3 at the break. In the second half, the Trojan defense held its ground. The fourth frame saw USC tack up four unanswered goals, including a pair from Carson Kranz and a capper from Andrej Grgurevic to top off the Trojans’ 9-3 win and punch a ticket to the night’s semifinal against rival UCLA.

#2 UCLA 14, #3 USC 10
Under the lights of Uytengsu Aquatics Center, the Trojans and the Bruins went toe-to-toe in a heated affair. USC took the opening lead with searing scores from Di Martire and Miller. UCLA fired back with three straight goals to edge into the lead before Tom McGuire knotted things up early in the second as he walked in and fired to make it 3-3. The Bruins responded again — this time with a four-goal rally that would put the visitors in the lead for good. USC was able to get within two goals of its rival on three occasions on the hands of Di Martire, Kranz and Ausmus, but each time the Bruins answered back. Kranz’s third of the night had it as a 13-10 margin with under two minutes to go, and UCLA had the last word to wrap the night and take its place in the final.

#3 USC 13, #4 Stanford 12 (OT)
The third-place battle featured shifting momentum with eight ties and six lead changes. USC rattled off a run to turn a 6-5 halftime deficit into an 8-6 advantage. Luka Brnetic lit the fuse with his goal just before halftime, and then Max Miller sandwiched two huge goals around a strike from teammate Andrej Grgurevic to lift the Trojans ahead by two. Stanford struck back, however, finishing off back-to-back power plays to level it and spark what would grow to a five-goal Cardinal rally. That had the Trojans in an 11-8 hold with 5:23 left in regulation, prompting the hosts to dig deep to defend home waters. Freshman Zach Bettino set a new career high for himself when he delivered his third goal of the game at 5:04. He’d find Carson Kranz a minute later for a booming blast that got USC one back. Plagued by early exclusions, Massimo Di Martire got back in gear, finishing off a 6-on-5 earned by Miller with a rocket strike that knotted the game at 11-11 with 1:51 on the clock. Defenses would hold, thanks in large part to some big stops from USC goalie Eric Hubner, and it was on to overtime. More work from Miller at set got the Trojans up on another power play — this one also topped off by Di Martire to net a 12-11 lead for USC. The Cardinal countered with a power play scored of its own just 20 seconds later to make it 12-12. In the next portion of OT, an enormous Hubner save squashed a Stanford 6-on-5 to keep things even. USC would set up later for a final look to win it, going on the attack with seven ticks to go. On the possession, sophomore Jack Vort found Bettino for a bold blast that ripped its way to the back of the net to tally a 13-12 lead with barely a second remaining. The clock would expire quickly on Stanford, and USC emerged victorious in its first overtime game of the year to take third place at the event.

– With his game-high four goals vs. Stanford, FR Zach Bettino set a new career high.
– GS Massimo Di Martire and SR Max Miller continue to lead the team in multiple-goal games with seven apiece and with goals in 10 different games this season.
– With nine goals scored at the event, Di Martire leads USC in scoring with 22 goals so far this season.
– Hubner’s 10 saves vs. Stanford marked his second double-digit save outing of the season — both during the Overnght/MPSF Invite.

Massimo Di Martire and Max Miller are currently spearheading USC’s scoring charge with 22 and 21 goals, respectively. Those two also have each scored in a team-high 10 USC games to date. The Trojans’ assists leader is senior Tom McGuire with 23, while Di Martire tops the steals board with 18. Miller and fellow two-meter man Tony Nardelli have combined for 59 drawn exclusions, with Miller leading the count with 31 through 11 games of work. On the defensive end, three goalies have seen time in the cage, with redshirt sophomore Bernardo Herzer capping up in seven games and redshirt sophomore Eric Hubner checking for five. 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 150-92 for an average of 13.7 goals per game offensively and 8.4 goals-against per game defensively. The USC defense has held opponents scoreless in 11 periods of regulation play.

Freshman Zach Bettino captured his first official award as a Trojan in being selected MPSF Newcomer of the Week on Sept. 25 following a clutch performance at the Overnght/MPSF Invitational. Bettino scored the game-winning goal in overtime and finished with a career-high four goals to help USC beat No. 4 Stanford 13-12 in the third-place game on Sunday. Before that game, Bettino’s season best had been two-goal outings, making this game a breakout for the freshman, who also had five assists at the tournament. Against the Cardinal, he was 4-of-6 shooting and dealt out an assist and a steal. He is now third on the team in scoring this season with 13 goals. Bettino is the first Trojan to pick up weekly honors from the conference this season, and is the 12th USC player to earn the award since it began in 2016.

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 AusmusTom McGuireJoshua Waldoch and Aidan Wattson.

CAGE FIGHTERS            
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.

NEW CREW            
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 AverittChase LandaLuke 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.

LAST SEASON            
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 EhrhardtMassimo 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. •

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