USC, Pepperdine Win Quarterfinals at 2019 NCAA Men’s Water Polo Tournament

December 1, 2018; , Palo Alto, CA, USA; Collegiate Men's Water Polo:NCAA Semi Finals: USC vs UCLA; USC 2 Meter Sam Slobodien after scoring the game winning goal Photo credit: Catharyn Hayne
USC's Sam Slobodien, shown here against UCLA, has trained for five NCAA tournaments - and participated in four as part of the Trojan roster. Photo Courtesy: Catharyn Hayne

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In 2019 NCAA Men’s Water Polo Tournament action Thursday at Pacific’s Chris Kjeldsen Pool, third-seeded Pepperdine and #4 USC won and advanced to the semifinals, to be held Saturday. The Waves, appearing in the national championship for the first time in two decades, rode a six-goal explosion by Chris Dilworth to capture a hard-fought 15-12 victory over UC Davis.

2019-NCAAThe Trojans, defending national champions, trailed by one after one period to Eastern representative Bucknell, but an 8-1 spurt over the second and third frames allowed USC to coast to a comfortable 15-9 win. Seeking to advance to a 15th consecutive NCAA final, USC — with Marko Pintatic leading the team in his first NCAA match as a head coach — beat back a Bison squad that had not traveled West for NCAA tournament play since 1985.

[There’s a LOT to Look Forward to at the 2019 NCAA Men’s Water Polo Championship]

Jacob Mercep netted three-goals for the Trojans, as did Sam Slobodien, a red-shirt senior. Goalie Nic Porter made nine saves include a stop on a five-meter attempt by Rade Joksimovic in the third period that would have narrowed the USC lead to two.

With the win, the Trojans (15-5), who received one of two at-large bids from the NCAA selection committee, advance to a semifinal contest against top seed Stanford (19-2). The two Mountain Pacific Sports Federation (MPSF) foes know each other well; in last year’s final the Trojans raced out to a 6-0 lead and then held on for a 14-12 win, the program’s tenth title.

[Defending Champion Trojans on Familiar Ground as They Seek Yet Another NCAA Men’s Water Polo Title]

Logan Schofield, Andu Vlasceanu and Joksimovic each chipped in two goals apiece for Head Coach John McBride’s squad. Bucknell (23-9) captured the Mid-Atlantic Water Polo Conference’s automatic bid then beat Harvard, the Northeast Water Polo Conference champions last Saturday in a play-in match. It was Joksimovic’s final match wearing the Bison’s orange and blue; in his stellar four-year career, Rade produced an astounding 525 goals.


Bucknell’s Andu Vlasceanu capped a brilliant freshman year with 2 goals against SC. Photo Courtesy: Bucknell Athletics

The match-up between Pepperdine (25-7), representing the Golden Coast Conference (GCC), and UC Davis (16-8), the Western Water Polo Association winners, was back and forth until the Waves pulled ahead with a late spurt to win an NCAA match for the first time since 1997, when they won their only title. Balazs Kosa netted four goals in support of Dilworth, a senior who extended his career for at least one more match.

For the Aggies, who had a nine-match win-streak snapped, Nir Gross had four goals while Holden Tamblyn scored three. Yurii Hanley, who had two goals and two assists, scored with approximately four minutes remaining in the game to cap a spirited UCD rally from four goals down that tied the match at 12-all. From there it was all Pepperdine, as Dilworth, Sean Ferrari and then Dilworth again scored to advance the Waves to a match on Saturday against GCC foe Pacific (16-5). The Tigers, who are hosting NCAAs for the first time ever, have dropped their last two matches — both in the GCC tournament.

[Pacific, Not UCLA, in as At-Large Team for 2019 NCAA Men’s Water Polo Tournament]

Saturday’s semifinal parings are an outgrowth of the split in the MPSF four years ago, when Pacific, Pepperdine, Long Beach State, UC Irvine and UC Santa Barbara broke off from Cal, Stanford, UCLA and USC — the nation’s most successful polo programs — to join with San Jose State and create a new men’s polo conference. With MPSF teams in one semifinal, and both GCC squads in the other, Sunday’s final will represent the first time the two conferences have competed for a national title.


Pepperdine’s Terry Schroeder is back in an NCAA semifinal – for the first time since 1997. Photo Courtesy: Pepperdine Athletics

Since Pepperdine’s win in 1997, only the so called “Big Four” from the MPSF, all of which are members of the Pac-12, have won a national title. This year represents an opportunity for a rearranging of this hierarchy, as Pacific and Pepperdine both own wins over USC in 2019, and have been competitive with Stanford.

[Notes from a Memorable Start to the 2019 NCAA Men’s Water Polo Season]

Saturday’s first match will feature the Cardinal and the Trojans, and will take place at 5 p.m. (EST) to be followed by the Waves and the Tigers at 7 p.m. (EST). Both games are being live-streamed by the NCAA and can be found here.

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3 years ago

Obviously with this “over Adjustment” to the seedlings you do not have the best teams in the final four ? Very interesting ?

3 years ago
Reply to  Toma

So True. If we had a real quarterfinal , all 4 [USC,UCLS, STANFORD, & CAL] would qualify each year. Love the sport.
Let’s reward the best players & teams and then take 4 from The other conferences.

3 years ago

I can’t figure out if “Tommy” is serious …