No. 3 USC Men’s Water Polo Sets Up Defense Of MPSF Tournament Title This Week

Courtesy: USC Athletics

THIS WEEK        
No. 3 USC sets off on its postseason course this week, heading to Berkeley, Calif., for action at the 2023 MPSF Tournament. The Trojans will be looking to defend the 2022 title it captured last season. USC (12-6) opens up against Augustana in the quarterfinal round at 11:15 a.m. on Friday (Nov. 17) to fight for a spot in a 1 p.m. semifinal on Saturday (Nov. 18). Placement games are set for Sunday (Nov. 19), culminating in a 3 p.m. championship game. The winner of the MPSF Tournament title will earn an automatic berth to the coming NCAA Tournament, hosted by USC Dec. 1-3.


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 12-6 overall, USC is ranked No. 3 in the nation as of the latest set of national rankings (released Nov. 15). USC also spent time at No. 4 this year.

USC hosted last year’s MPSF Tournament, which for the first time featured an eight-team format culminating in an East and West champion after the addition of two new teams to the conference. USC opened the 2022 tourney with a 30-3 win over Austin College and then beat No. 2 UCLA 12-11 in the semifinals to move into the title match. The Trojans controlled that one, topping No. 4 Stanford 14-10 to claim the MPSF West crown and take the automatic berth into the NCAA Tournament, marking USC’s 18th straight trip to NCAAs. Jake Ehrhardt was named MPSF Tournament MVP and was joined by Ashworth MolthenMassimo Di Martire and Kyle McKenney on the All-Tournament Team.

Max Miller is currently spearheading USC’s scoring charge with 32 goals, just ahead of Massimo Di Martire’s 28 to date. Miller also leads the team in having tallied 11 multiple-goal games this year, while he and Di Martire have each scored in a team-best 15 games. The Trojans’ assists leader is senior Tom McGuire with 27, while Di Martire tops the steals board with 27. Miller and fellow two-meter man Tony Nardelli have combined for 78 drawn exclusions, with Miller leading the count with 50 through his 18 games of work. On the defensive end, three goalies have seen time in the cage, with redshirt sophomore Bernardo Herzer capping up in 13 games and redshirt sophomore Eric Hubner checking for seven. 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 10.3 saves per game. As a team, USC has outscored its opponents 224-162 for an average of 12.4 goals per game offensively and 9.0 goals-against per game defensively. The USC defense has held opponents scoreless in 14 periods of regulation play.

For the first time this season, USC swept the MPSF weekly awards on Nov. 6, with two first-timers on the honor roll in MPSF Player of the Week Andrej Grgurevic and MPSF Newcomer of the Week Bernardo Herzer. The two Trojans were instrumental in a key conference victory, as No. 4 USC beat No. 3 Stanford 10-6. Grgurevic tied his career high with three goals on four shots in the crucial Trojan win over the Cardinal. Grgurevic scored USC’s first two goals of the game, and his third came as USC’s final goal of the solid 10-6 win over the Cardinal. Grgurevic’s three-goal effort was just his second multiple-goal game this season. He also had a steal in the Trojans’ win. This is Grgurevic’s first MPSF Player of the Week pick, and he was the second Trojan to earn the honor this season, joining Max Miller. Grgurevic was selected an MPSF Newcomer of the Week last season as a true freshman. Redshirt sophomore goalie Herzer, meanwhile, set a new career high for himself with 14 saves in beating the Cardinal. The MPSF Newcomer of the Week also nabbed two steals in the victory while helping to anchor USC’s defense, which shut out the Cardinal for 11 minutes. The 14-save outing marked Herzer’s second straight double-digit save effort, and the sixth of his USC career. Stanford’s six goals scored marked a season low total for the Cardinal. Herzer was the second Trojan to be named MPSF Newcomer of the Week this season, following true freshman Zach Bettino.

USC capped off a sizable home stretch with a decisive win over visiting No. 10 Pacific, led by senior Max Miller’s four-goal outburst. For his efforts, Miller was named MPSF Player of the Week for the first time in his Trojan career with his pick on Oct. 2. Miller scored USC’s first three goals of the game in an eventual 16-6 win over the Tigers. The victory avenged last year’s road loss at Pacific thanks to a well-rounded USC effort, led by Miller’s four goals to go along with a drawn exclusion and steal by the senior. He was 4-of-5 shooting in the USC win. Miller was the first Trojan to win the award since 2021. He was an MPSF Newcomer of the Week selection as a freshman in 2020. Miller currently stands as USC’s top scorer with 32 goals entering the postseason.

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. Bettino was the first Trojan to pick up weekly honors from the conference this season, and was the 12th USC player to earn the award since it began in 2016. He is now sixth on the team in scoring this season with 19 goals.

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.

STRIKE FORCE            
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.

PINTA’S PROGRAM            
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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