The USC men’s water polo team knocked off Pac-12 rivals Stanford earlier this month to win the 10th NCAA Championship in program history. This was USC’s 14th-straight final: a streak that began in 2005 with 3-2 win over Stanford.
This year’s match was a very different affair. The Trojans took an offense-packed 14-12 win that was the Division I Men’s Championship match in history. USC is now 5-2 all-time against Stanford in championship matches, including wins in the last 4 head-to-head championship matches.
Sophomore Jacob Mercep, a Croatian, led the Trojans with 5 goals. The scoring was a true team effort for victorious USC. Aside from Mercep’s 5 and Sam Slobodien’s 2, nobody scored more than 1 goal, resulting in 9 total players scoring for the Trojans.
Mercep was eventually named the NCAA Tournament MVP after his performance.
USC opened up a huge 5-0 lead in the first period, which they extended to 7-1 and 11-4 after the 2nd and 3rd periods, respectively.
But after the two teams split the regular-season series, with neither of those games being separated by more than 2 goals, the 7-goal lead heading into the 4th seemed too good to be true.
The Cardinal stormed back over the last 8 minutes of the match, rocketing 8 goals past Trojan keeper Nic Porter (who still out-saved his Stanford opposite Oliver Lewis 12 saves to 4).
Late in the match, with Stanford down 13-11, Ben Hallock had a chance at a 6th goal. He drew a 5-meter penalty shot with 1:35 left in the match, but the ball slipped from his hand as he went to take the shot, and that deflated the Cardinal. USC’s Jake Ehrhardt scored on the next sequence, and that iced the match for the Trojans.
“I’m very, very happy for [the seniors], first of all. Stanford is a very tough opponent with one of the best players in the nation and we were very worried about them. I think we did a great job defensively for most of the time,” USC head coach Jovan Vavic said. “It was a complete team effort.”
Vavic, who also leads the USC women’s team, now has 16 total water polo national titles, and for the 3rd time led the USC men and women to titles in the same calendar year.
“It’s everything, honestly. It feels like the weight of the world is off my shoulders,” said Zach D’Sa, a fourth-generation Trojan whose grandfather played water polo at USC. “It’s such a relief to finally win. The last three championships that we lost were really tough, but I think we learned from it and we came out here to play today and finally got it.”
“Today was a disappointment, but we had a great season overall and we are proud of our accomplishments,” Stanford senior goalie Oliver Lewis said. “This group of guys is special.”