USC Wins MPSF; Joined by UCLA, Cal in NCAA's

McQuin Baron, USC (Photo Courtesy of USC)
Nov. 19, 2017

MPSF Men's Water Polo Release 12 and All-Tournament Team

2017 NCAA Interactive Bracket

2017 NCAA Printable Bracket

MPSF Championship:

No. 4 seed USC 7, No. 3 seed UCLA 5

Recap by USC Sports Info:

PALO ALTO, CALIF. -- The No. 4 seeded USC men's water polo never trailed in today's MPSF Championship bout with rival UCLA, holding the No. 3 seeded Bruins at bay on the way to a 7-5 victory that secured the Trojans' second straight MPSF Tournament title. Now with 11 MPSF crowns to its name, USC also has officially sewn up an automatic bid into the coming NCAA Tournament, which the Trojans will host Dec. 2-3 at Uytengsu Aquatics Center.

The Trojans delivered the first three goals of the game, hinting at their focus and determination to lock up that ticket to the tourney. The opening goal saw Matteo Morelli's shot slam the bar, and the rebound knocked off a UCLA defender and back into the goal to take the Trojans to a 1-0 lead. That score would stand through to the end of the frame, and then USC jumped out ahead farther in the early goings of the second. Marko Vavic would find James Walters at the post for a 6-on-5 finish that made it 2-0 Trojans in the first minute of the second period. Less than a minute later, Blake Edwards proved too strong for the UCLA defense, with his powerful shot bouncing off defenders to nudge USC ahead 3-0. The Bruins would get on the board on their next possession, but USC was undeterred. After Lachlan Edwards earned a power play for his Trojans, Lazar Pasuljevic sailed a cross to Grant Stein, who slotted his shot crosscage to make it 4-1 Trojans. UCLA would get a skipper to go with 2:17 on the clock, and the game would sit at 4-2 USC for halftime.

In the third, UCLA opened the frame with a strike that made it a one-goal margin, but USC regrouped soon after. Again, Edwards got USC up on a 6-on-5, and just after teams pulled even it was Thomas Dunstan who found Morelli for a quick fake and the the rifle shot to make it 5-3 USC at 5:38. UCLA wasn't going away, however, landing a lob that had it as a 5-4 margin at the end of the third. The first stretch of the fourth was a defensive stalemate. With 3:15 to go, USC goalie McQuin Baron made one of his 11 saves on the day to send his Trojans on the attack. There, Morelli hit Blake Edwards for a ripper to the low corner, and USC had a 6-4 advantage with 2:53 remaining. Barely 10 seconds later, UCLA struck right back, making it a one-goal game once more with 2:42 on the clock. USC's defense would made a stand from there, with Marin Dasic putting up a clutch field block to turn away the Bruins at 1:51. Lachlan Edwards earned yet another power play for the Trojans, then received a no-look pass from brother Blake Edwards and hammered home the opportunity to get USC ahead 7-5 with 1:07 to go. UCLA had a chance to cut in, but Baron stepped up to stop the Bruins' 6-on-5 strike, and the Trojans held tight to their 7-5 advantage to lock in the victory.

USC now awaits the announcement of the 2017 NCAA Tournament field, which is due out later today (Nov. 19). The Trojans are set up to host the NCAA Semifinals and Championship game Dec. 2-3 at Uytengsu Aquatics Center, where USC has plans to reach a 13th straight NCAA final and lay claim to the program's 10th national championship.

MPSF Third-Place:

No. 2 seed California 10, No. 1 seed Stanford 9 (OT)

Recap by Cal Sports Info:

STANFORD, Calif. -- With just two matches under his belt since returning from an absence forced by illness, Cal men's water polo senior Luca Cupido entered what could have potentially been his final collegiate match nowhere close to full strength.

But, with the Bears facing a win-or-go-home scenario in the third-place match of the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation (MPSF) Championships, Cupido wasn't ready to see his Cal career end just yet as the 2016 Olympian tied the game with 11 seconds left in regulation and added an overtime goal that would eventually prove decisive as the Bears defeated rival Stanford 10-9 to wrap up play at Avery Aquatic Center.

With the win, Cal improves to 20-3 on the season and now plays the waiting game as it remains in contention for an at-large berth in the NCAA Championships. The field will be announced by the NCAA on Sunday night and Cal will hope to travel the same road it did in 2016 when the Bears turned an at-large spot into their 14th national title.

To keep any hope of moving on alive, Cal first had to vanquish a determined rival in its own pool. Trailing 7-6 with 20 seconds left in regulation, the Bears called time out to draw up one final chance at extending the match. Cupido got the chance with the season on the line and he wasn't about to miss, firing a shot to the top corner just past the outstretched arm of goalkeeper Drew Holland to tie the game with 11 seconds left.

Cupido's goal sent the match to overtime and the Bears turned a power play chance into the lead as Odysseas Masmanidis found just a small bit of open water, whirled around and fired a shot that deflected off a defender and into the net to put Cal ahead 9-8.

It didn't take long for Cal to extend the lead and again it was Cupido right in the middle of the action. An outlet pass from goalkeeper Kevin Le Vine put his fellow senior ahead of the defense and, even as he was dragged underwater by two Cardinal players, Cupido found the strength to push forward and fire a shot home that left Cal up 10-8 at the end of the first overtime.

Stanford got one goal back with 1:57 left in the second overtime and the Cardinal got one final chance to tie the game with 25 seconds left. Leading scorer Ben Hallock tried to equalize with a long distance shot but Cupido was there to deny his Olympic teammate, blocking the shot to preserve Cal's lead to the final buzzer.

"I didn't know if this was going to be my last senior game, so I knew I was going to give everything in the water. I told the guys they would have to take me away in an ambulance if they had to because I wasn't going away without giving everything," Cupido said. "It's crazy. This team, even last year, likes that hard, difficult path. We're very talented but for some reason we always try to get the crowd involved and make it more interesting. If not, we're not happy. I'm not in great shape, I just got back three days ago, but it's just a matter of playing with your heart and not letting your team down. They count on me, and if I didn't have it, I had to give whatever I had."

Cal fell behind early on Sunday as Stanford (19-5) struck early to put the Bears down 3-0 right away. But, the ever-resilient Bears clawed their way back to tie the game at 5 by halftime and a goal by Cupido just a few minutes into the third period gave Cal its first lead of the day. Johnny Hooper added his third goal of the day and the Bears took a 7-6 lead to the fourth period.

Cupido's final stat line demonstrated just how valuable he was in the victory as he finished with four goals, four assists, three steals, two field blocks and one ejection earned.

"We talked a long time last night and I just said you need to tell me when you can't do stuff so I don't ask you to do it because he'll do it anyway," head coach Kirk Everist said. "He was able early in the game to take himself out in situations where he felt like we could survive without him. I think that helped him in the second half and overtime to have that energy to make a play like that at the end, both at the end of regulation and in overtime."

Hooper finished with a hat trick, Masmanidis scored twice and Pedro Stellet added one. Le Vine made seven saves and had four big steals to help Cal keep its season alive.

"We want a shot. I think we've earned it throughout the year," Everist said of a potential NCAA Tournament spot. "We went through some adversity at probably the worst possible time and I think we adjusted well to it. We were able to go from a spot where we were kind of a lock and looking like we were playing about as good of water polo as we can play to hitting a bump in the road and having to re-establish what our system was. We had some guys play different positions today. Nic Carniglia became a 2-meter defender in that game, he hasn't done it all year, and gave us huge minutes and really put pressure on their focal point on offense, Ben Hallock."