Water Polo: USC Leads Way with Three Finalists for Cutino Award

Aug 3, 2021; Tokyo, Japan; Netherlands player Maud Megens (2) is defended by Hungary player Vanda Valyi (3) in a women's water polo quarter final match during the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Summer Games at Tatsumi Water Polo Centre. Mandatory Credit: Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports
Maud Megens with the Netherlands at the Tokyo Olympics; Photo Courtesy: Robert Hanashiro/USA Today Sports

Water Polo: USC Leads Way with Three Finalists for Cutino Award

Three players from USC are among the six finalists for the men’s and women’s Peter J. Cutino Award, announced on Thursday.

Finalists for the men’s award as USC’s Jacob Mercep, UCLA’s Nicolas Saveljic and the University of California’s Nikolaos Papanikolaou. On the women’s side, Stanford’s Sarah Klass is the interloper between USC teammates Denise Mammolito and Maud Megens.

The Cutino Award is awarded annually since 1999 by the Olympic Club to recognize the best collegiate men’s and women’s water polo players. USA Water Polo will broadcast the award ceremony live on Sept. 2, via its YouTube and Facebook pages. The Cutino Award is named after the eight-time NCAA championship coach at Cal.

The 2021 finalists represent five countries, with Mammolito and Klass the lone Americans.

Mammolito (Rancho Cucamonga, Calif.) is a senior driver who helped lead USC to a national title. She was the Trojans’ top scorer with 51 goals and finished 10th in program history with 174 career goals.

Klass, a senior driver from San Ramon, Calif., helped the Cardinal reach the NCAA semifinals. A first-team All-American, she scored 47 goals to lead Stanford. She was second in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation (MPSF) in goals per game at 2.5 and first in sprints won with 67.

Megens hails from Rotterdam, Netherlands. The senior utility player was the Association of Collegiate Water Polo Coaches (ACWPC) player of the year and MPSF player of the year. She scored 50 goals for the national champs and tallied 213 career goals, sixth-most in program history. She capped it with six goals in a romp over UCLA in the national title game. Megens was part of the Dutch team at the Tokyo Olympics.

On the men’s side, Saveljic has the national championship credentials. The senior attacker from Montenegro led UCLA to a national title, finishing first on the team and second in the nation with 37 goals. He was third on the Bruins in assists (10) and was tops in the NCAA in steals (30). Saveljic was the ACWPC Player of the Year.

Mercep got USC to the NCAA final. A three-time All-American from Croatia, the senior driver scored 151 goals in his career, 11th in program history, capped by 39 in 2021. He was the leading scorer in the nation this year, and was an NCAA all-tournament and MPSF all-tournament selection.

Papanikolaou is the lone underclassmen of the group, a sophomore center from Athens, Greece. The MPSF player of the year scored 25 goals, made 14 steals and earned 44 ejections. He was a first-team All-American.

The Cutino Award was given only to a man in 2020 due to the pandemic cancellations, with U.S. Olympian Ben Hallock winning it for a second consecutive time.