LOS ANGELES – One of the cruelest parts of sports is that one moment can define an athlete’s career. Bill Buckner’s ground ball between his legs, Chris Webber’s called timeout, Andres Escobar deflecting a shot into his own goal during the World Cup, all were moments that these athletes could not escape.
USC goalie, McQuin Baron had a moment in last year’s NCAA Championship game that was nowhere near as catastrophic but could have defined him had he allowed it.
Baron was a freshman playing against UCLA in the title game when a ball shot from the other end of the pool caught him off guard and went into the net. It was a soft goal and USC ended up losing the game, 9-8.
“You don’t really remember it happening you just know that it did,” Baron said. “Then you see the ball in the back of the net."
Baron admitted that it was a thought that ran through his head no matter how hard he tried to block it out.
“It bothered me a decent amount since we lost by one and it’s the one goal a goalie should never give up,” Baron said. “It eats away at you. It’s not that I feel bad for myself, I felt bad for the seniors because it was their last game. They led us to the championship so to let them down is what eats at me.”
It would have been excusable if Baron had gone into a shell and let that one play mentally devour him. Fortunately Baron refused to let it and has come back this season a much more determined player because of what happened.
“That single play hasn’t been the motivation but the fact that we lost motivated me,” Baron said. “I’m not letting that single play define who I am as a player. My focus is on not letting that happen again. I have more confidence in a championship situation. I was a freshman last year and now I have the experience.”
What was his prevailing thought in the offseason was getting another chance in the NCAA Championships.
“I wanted to get back to this point” Baron said. “I wanted to show people what I can do. The championship game last year was probably one of my worst performances. So getting back to this point against the same team was a huge deal. I thought I had to get back to the championship game after last year. “
While he didn’t make any mistakes in this year’s title match, the Trojans lost for the second consecutive year, 10-7.
But it wasn’t because of Baron. The sophomore had 12 saves and two steals and played a strong game. UCLA’s offense was just too strong for the Trojans.
Baron can also take solace that if it wasn’t for his play this season, the team probably wouldn’t have made the tournament.
“We have had a few situations where McQuin has saved us,” said USC Head Coach Jovan Vavic. “He was a difference maker in the Cal game. I think you have those moments where you remember how good he is.”
In the semifinal game against Cal Baron had several point blank saves and stopped two penalty shots in the 9-6 upset of the No. 2 ranked Bears.
“Our team gets very energized, they get very, very excited when I block a shot,” Baron said. “I get excited when our team is enjoying our team defense. Defense will win championships. A lot of teams will get excited when they score a goal, but our team gets very excited when I make a shot block or a save. They do a fist pump or yell.”
Baron enjoys a 6-foot-nine-inch frame which he said gives him an advantage in goal.
"I think it’s a huge advantage,” Baron said. “I’m really long so I can reach out, but people can beat me different ways. I am back in the cage and let it come to me.”
After one of the worst moments in his athletic career, Baron has already bounced back and has two more years to add more good memories to help erase one bad one.