Back-to-Back Losses to Whittier, Chapman Send Athenas into Fourth Place in SCIAC

Although the Claremont-Mudd-Scripps women's water polo team (11-17, 8-3 SCIAC) ended their season last weekend at the SCIAC Championships, they did not go down without a fight.

"Our [season] motto was to go hard in the fourth quarter," attacker Jess Gaffney CM '18 said.

After exerting much physical and mental energy in a 6-8 loss to Whittier College (21-14, 9-2 SCIAC) April 25, the Athenas didn't have enough left to outlast Chapman University (14-5, 6-5 SCIAC) in the third-place game and fell to the Panthers 10-9 after a close back-and-forth match to finish the season in fourth place in the SCIAC.

The Athenas started off the tournament on a high note, defeating California Lutheran University (9-20, 5-7 SCIAC) 13-7 April 24. While almost everyone made it into the lineup, Gaffney stood out with three goals, two of which came in the first quarter to give CMS an early 3-1 lead.

"It did give me a lot of confidence," Gaffney said. "In the Cal Lu game we found the back of the net really well and it reaffirmed our strength in the position we were in. That might be why we went into the Whittier game confidently and [are] already looking ahead to playing Pomona-Pitzer."

With seven different players scoring goals and five Athenas scoring two or more, the Cal Lutheran game was a true team effort. 

However, the Athenas were not as fortunate on offense against Whittier the next day. After a 12-minute drought, utility player Haley Conner CM '15 finally scored one for CMS with just under four minutes left in the third quarter. As one of five seniors on the team, Conner played with her heart on the line.

"I just got to the point where nothing else mattered and you just have to take those chances," Conner said. "I was playing for my teammates and for my coach. I gave it everything I had and unfortunately it wasn't enough."

The Whittier match, which proved to be the most physically demanding and aggressive match of the tournament, featured a style of play that many team members said they weren't used to. Still, CMS was able to fight back from a four-goal deficit when, with just under three minutes left in the fourth quarter, Gaffney scored two back-to-back goals to bring her team to within just one at 6-7. The Athenas' efforts were not quite enough, though, and Whittier ultimately came out ahead after netting a goal just 20 seconds after Gaffney's.

"In every game we played really well, but I think we played more cohesively as a team against Whittier and Chapman," Gaffney said. "Coming out in the fourth quarter in the Whittier game we had the most energy out of all the games we played and that showed in our comeback fourth quarter."

The physical toll and disappointment from the Whittier loss contributed to the Athenas’ loss in the Chapman game, though they continued fighting until the end.

The score flip-flopped between the two teams the entire match. Utility player Brittany Arneson CM '17 led the attack with three goals and driver Rose Koper CM '15 had two of her own, one of which tied the game at 9-9 with 43 seconds left. It looked like the Athenas could pull away, but Chapman scored the winning goal just five seconds later, earning them third place in SCIAC. 

"It's always very challenging after coming back from a loss and having that motivation to play well in that final game," Conner said. "People were taking it seriously, but definitely mental exhaustion and disappointment made it challenging to come back."

The loss marks the final career game for Conner, Koper, goalie Allison Hu CM ’15, driver Sarah Gonzalez CM ’15 and central defender LillyBelle Deer CM ’15. Though their season ended with two hard-fought losses, the Athenas still see the positive in their season as a whole.

"While it was sad, I don't think it was detrimental to our season," Gaffney said about the weekend losses. "Our last two games don't speak to the heart and soul of the team. We really wanted it and there was no laziness or doubt in the last two games, which is something that had been consistent all year."