UCI men’s water polo was pummeled by a score of 20-4 by No. 3 USC at the Anteater Aquatics Complex after a lopsided second quarter tipped the scales in the Trojans’ favor.
Despite braces from sophomore Jack Trush and junior Ryan Warde, the ‘Eaters were stifled by the Trojan defense. Trush added to his team-high 27 goals on the year, with Warde sitting right behind him at 19.
Junior goalie Matej Matijevich was overwhelmed with shots all game but was able to stop 12 in three and a half quarters giving him 191 in his 14 starts.
Matteo Morelli led USC with 4 goals, as 10 Trojans tallied a score with junior brothers Lachlan and Blake Edwards also notching hat tricks.
UCI was able to hang tough early on, only down 3-1 at the end of the first quarter, but the Trojans ripped off eight in a row to open the second and put the game out of reach. USC’s heavy press made it difficult for the ‘Eaters to gain traction on the offensive end, and were often able to force turnovers leading to fast break goals.
“In the first quarter I thought we protected the ball really well,” said head coach Marc Hunt, “We wanted to make sure we didn’t give away any easy turnovers on the perimeter. In the second quarter we did an absolutely horrible job with that.”
Better ball control from UCI slowed the pace down in the second half, but the well-conditioned Trojans continued to capitalize on the ‘Eaters’ mistakes. The ‘Eaters were shutout in the third quarter 3-0, and outscored 5-2 in the final frame.
“I think that comes with a certain level of energy and effort and we start digging into our bench a little bit. That’s what happened in the second quarter, we started getting worn and we start getting into that bench. Then the perimeter pressure started to smack us a little bit harder,” said Hunt.
Against a true powerhouse like USC, the goal for this ‘Eaters team is not to dominate the game, but rather achieve small moral victories that come along with a tough matchup.
Coach Hunt’s expectations this season have been tempered due to the seven true freshmen on the squad and seven redshirting upperclassmen.
“We’ve got a young group, and it’s really not about trying to conquer the mountain. It’s about trying to get some of those small things correct. I know we’re not going to come out and do everything perfect, but what small victories can we get out of it, what small steps can we take out of this.” In preparation for next season, Hunt’s young team has been thrown into the gauntlet this year to come back battle tested when they are eligible for postseason play.
“When you bring in a squad whose basic experience is high school and you put them into something like this, it’s a great learning tool. Like it or not we’re going to take some lumps this year and we have. But the upside is the development that comes with our young guys. Realistically, it’s good for us in the long run, and I think it’s my job to get out in front on that and make sure the guys understand that.”
The ‘Eaters are back in action Friday night as they host Pacific in what will be the inaugural match of the Golden Coast Conference at 7pm at the Anteater Aquatics Complex. UCI looks to rebound after the USC drubbing and make history as the winner of the first Golden Coast Conference match ever.