Can’t Beat a Trojan Twice! USC Tops Stanford for 2018 MPSF Invite Men’s Water Polo Title

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Jacob Mercep powers the Trojans at MPSF Invite. Photo Courtesy: Catharyn Hayne

Amid all the excitement of Stanford men’s water polo’s best start since the 2001 NCAA-winning squad is one basic reality: in the arms race that’s the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation (MPSF), USC has the best collection of pure shooters in college polo. A 13-11 loss last Saturday to Stanford—their first of 2018—may have dented the Trojans’ aura of invincibility. But a 10-9 victory over the Cardinal in the 2018 MPSF Invitational title match Sunday at Avery Aquatic Center proved that USC has enough defense to play with anyone.

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Lefty Jacop Mercep—who transferred to Southern Cal last summer following a fantastic freshman campaign at San Jose State, led the way for Head Coach Jovan Vavic’s squad with five goals—increasing his haul on the weekend to an impressive 13 in wins over Air Force, Long Beach State, Cal and then Stanford. With 29 saves over parts of three games, including starts against Cal and Stanford, Nic Porter greatly impacted the Trojans’ fortunes, and has likely secured the top spot in Vavic’s goalie rotation.

In defeat, the Cardinal got four scores from Bennet Williams, who tied the match at 9-all with 22 seconds remaining after his team trailed 9-6 three minutes into the fourth period. That was simply too much time remaining for Mercep, who scored his 44th goal of the season, beating Stanford netminder Oliver Lewis with five ticks left in the match and providing sweet revenge for last weekend’s loss on The Farm.

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USC’s Luka Karaman; master of all he surveys, including Stanford. Photo Courtesy: Catharyn Hayne

The Cardinals had a glorious run through the tournament in their own pool, with wins over San Jose State, Pacific and then defending MPSF Invitational champs UCLA before falling short against the Trojans. After a match this Friday against Wagner, John Vargas’ squad will again be tested by Pacific, who return to Avery a week after a narrow 14-13 loss Saturday. With Ben Hallock (2 goals Sunday; 35 on the season), Lewis (14 saves) Williams (team-leading 37 goals), Tyler Abramson (36 goals) and freshman Jackson Seybold (19 goals; game-winning shot against UCLA) providing strong performances, the Cardinal (13-1; 1-0 MPSF) will look to bounce back quickly from their first loss in 2018.

They can take a cue from the Trojans (22-1; 0-1 MPSF), who have won five straight since their only setback this season. In addition to Mercep, the scoring depth on the squad is daunting: Marko Vavic (team-leading 45 goals), freshman Hanne Daube (40 goals), Matt Meier (32 goals) and Zach D’Sa headline an offense that averages more than 17 goals a game. Next Saturday USC travels to Long Beach State before hosting Pepperdine Sunday at the Uytengsu Aquatics Center.

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UCLA’s David Stiling powering past Cal. Photo Courtesy: Catharyn Hayne

UCLA (19-1) and Cal (14-3)—losers on Saturday to Stanford and USC—will have a weekend off to lick their respective wounds. The Bruins can take solace in topping the Golden Bears 12-11 for third place yesterday; on October 27 they travel to Spieker Aquatics Complex in Berkeley to face Cal again. If UCLA goalie Alex Wolf is up to the task—14 saves on Sunday against Cal—and the Bruin defense can keep Johnny Hooper under wraps, then Head Coach Adam Wright can hope for his team has an edge going into a crucial MPSF match-up against the Cardinal in early November. Of course Kirk Everist, Cal’s head coach, will be equally eager to dish out revenge against the Bruins.

From here on in, all games for the country’s top four teams are crucial, because they primarily are against each other. Just like the final two rounds of the MPSF Invitational, the story at the top remains the same: USC, Stanford UCLA and Cal.

2 comments

    • avatar
      Michael Randazzo

      Good morning:

      Thank you for the kind words. I do strive to get the stories out about water polo—though I have yet to look into the Spanish Leagues. Perhaps it’s time for me to investigate.

      Until then, I do hope you find what you’re looking for in Swimming World’s water polo coverage.

      Your correspondent