Matteo Morelli adapts, succeeds with water polo

first_imgAt first glance, junior driver Matteo Morelli is not the most imposing figure. For water polo players, he stands at a modest 6-foot-1 and weighs 170 pounds. He does not possess the height of a Grant Stein or the bulk of a Blake Edwards. Yet, what he lacks in stature, Morelli makes up for in pure skill and determination. Over a stretch of three games from Oct. 27 to Nov. 6, he was the Trojans’ most valuable player, netting a dizzying 10 goals, including four goals and two assists against No. 2 Cal. Third in scoring on the team and eighth in the MPSF with 36 (just one behind Edwards and Stein), Morelli will be key in the long road of postseason games to come. When Morelli first arrived at USC by way of Naples, Italy, he was understandably apprehensive. “It was kind of scary at the beginning,” Morelli said. “It was completely different. The culture, the food … it was my first experience far from home without my family.” He found solace in the pool, his home since his family influenced him to start playing water polo 11 years ago. “I started because my dad played water polo,” Morelli said. “My family is a water polo family. From my father’s side to my mother’s side. They trained me in the water.” Now three seasons and 109 goals into his collegiate career, Morelli has not only adapted to the American culture but has also become a star player for the Men of Troy. After performing so excellently in last month’s 10-6 win over Cal, many are starting to take notice. He subsequently captured his first career MPSF Player of the Week award.“It was a great honor,” Morelli said. “I think I deserved it this time. A couple of other guys from the team have gotten it this season. I think we have the most MPSF Players of the Week this year.” One noticeable aspect about Morelli is that he would much rather reference his teammates than himself. For example, when asked about scoring his 100th career goal, he talks instead about how he prefers to set others up for scoring opportunities. This tendency is indicative of a larger culture that emphasizes team play over individualism. In fact, the Men of Troy’s camaraderie is so strong that when Morelli responded “probably” to having better chemistry in the pool with Lachlan Edwards than Lachlan has with his own brother Blake — who is also on the team — he was only half kidding. Many would be intimidated entering last weekend’s matchup against the undefeated No. 1 UCLA — the large crowd, the intense rivalry, the national implications, the Pac-12 Network cameras surrounding the pool deck. However, Morelli seemed to welcome the challenge that awaited. “I like the pressure a lot,” Morelli said. “I like the televised games too and also because my family in Italy can watch me play. I feel like I play better when they watch me play.”Beyond USC, Morelli is uncertain about his future. He may return to Italy and attempt to qualify for the National Team (he has already made appearances for the Youth National Team), or he may stay in the United States and pursue a career in his major of business administration. For now though, Matteo is fully focused on the goal at hand: competing in both the MPSF and NCAA tournaments. “Overall, we’re doing great,” said Morelli about his team’s recent string of success. “We still need to improve obviously but we are on a good streak right now and hopefully we are not going to lose any more games.”last_img