Sagehens Struggle in Non-Conference Play to Start 2010 Season

The shaky start of the Pomona-Pitzer women’s water polo season has dwindled the teams’ numbers down to a measly eleven members. The team doesn’t have enough players to run a normal 6-on-6 scrimmage during practice without recruiting Assistant Coach Jim Armstrong from retirement and a few players off the men’s team who miss the sport. The lack of numbers, coupled with a grueling pre-season schedule, has caused the Sagehens to fall to a 2-8 start to their 2010 campaign.

What the team lacks in numbers, however, it makes up for in versatility and adaptability. Two of the original three goalies have converted to field players to compensate for the lack of substitutes. Everyone can pose an outside shooting threat, play and defend the center two-meter “set” position, and adjust to every position during the occasional “6-on-5” plays.

Most of the Sagehens’ competitors have double their number of personnel. The numbers advantage comes in handy when the original six starting players need a break from sprinting up and down the 25-meter pool and from engaging in wrestling matches with their opponents. Coupled with the occasional necessity to fling the bright yellow ball halfway across the pool, this lack of substitutions gets very physically taxing. After each game, the majority of the team spends a good fifteen minutes in the athletic trainer’s office, emerging with various injured body parts wrapped in plastic and ice.

The numerically (but by no means spiritually) diminished women’s water polo team sacrificed their precious pre-midterm study weekend to play four games at Oaks Christian High School and Cal Lutheran University in Thousand Oaks, CA. On Saturday, Mar. 6, they battled Villanova and Cal State Northridge (CSUN), and on Sunday they contended with Cal State East Bay (CSUEB) and Arizona State University (ASU).

The Sagehens started the tournament well with a decisive 13-5 win over Division-I Villanova. The East Coast school could not get around the defense of Perri Hopkins PI ‘12, keep up with the speedy counter attack of Danielle “Dej” Joseph PO ’10, or prevent goalie-turned-field-player Dana Kingman PI ‘11 from dominating the pool in steals.

The strain of the first match hit the Hens hard enough for them to lose the later game to CSUN 5-12. CSUN’s goalie shut down the Sagehens’ counter attack, usually their main source of goals. This forced the Hens to rely on their outside shooting, which they’ve been working on particularly hard in practice but have yet to perfect. Some success was found through the rocket arm of leftie Annie Yankus-Oxborough PI ’12, who managed to score from half-pool.

After the CSUN game, Head Coach Alex Rodriguez commented that the Hens “needed to come out with more energy” in Sunday’s games. Recollections from last year’s Cal State East Bay match told Coach Rodriguez that this one wouldn’t exactly be a breeze.

The Sagehens didn’t have quite as much energy as they did in the game against Villanova, but they kept the notoriously violent CSUEB nervous. Down 4-7 with 7 minutes to go in the 4th quarter, the Hens scored 3 successive goals in as many minutes to tie the game, a comeback that made Coach Armstrong “proud to see that [everyone] didn’t give up.” The Sagehens couldn’t keep that momentum going forever, though, with all the suit-grabbing and kicking and punching going on under the water and outside the vision of the referees. A penalty shot and a quick goal from the center “set” position bumped CSUEB up 7-9, the final score.

The Sagehens kept their spirits high in the fourth and final match against ASU, the 4th-ranked team in the nation, even though the outcome of the game was decided after the Hens got beat 1-6 after the first quarter. P-P used the game as a good learning experience as they attempted a series of various defensive experiments. ASU continued to kill the Sagehen counter attack, however, while managing to pour in 17 goals against the Hens’ experimenting defense.

In that 6-17 defeat, P-P leading shooter Tamara Perea PI ’11 scored 5 goals, catching the goalie off guard with her quick catch-and-shoot maneuver from the outside perimeter. Perea also sent 3 shots into the back of the cage in the match against CSUEB. Kingman had 4 more steals in this final game.

All the coaches were proud of the way the Hens played in these last few games before spring break. Rodriguez and Assistant Coach Chris Lee said they plan to work the team hard these next couple of weeks to prepare for conference games after break.

The Sagehens will play next at Loyola Marymount University in a weekend tournament at the end of spring break. They play at home for the first time Mar. 26 and begin SCIAC play in April.