‘A huge rivalry’: Sagehens, Stags water polo teams split regular season faceoffs, setting up high-stakes SCIAC semifinal

Sam Harrison CM ’22 rises out of the water to block Joseph Schafer PO ’20 during a Sixth Street rivalry game on Nov. 13. Pomona-Pitzer beat Claremont-Mudd-Scripps 10-9. (Justin Sleppy • The Student Life)

Although the Claremont-Mudd-Scripps and Pomona-Pitzer men’s water polo teams are both vying to punch their ticket to the national tournament in the SCIAC semifinal match this Friday, the rivalry between the two conference powers is one that commands respect from both sides of Sixth Street. 

After losing their first matchup of the season, the Sagehens (21-10, 11-3 SCIAC) rebounded to beat the Stags (16-10, 11-3 SCIAC)  in a dramatic triple-overtime game last week, 10-9 at Axelrood Pool. Now, the teams will face off once more in the SCIAC semifinal at CMS on Friday.

Friday’s game will not only decide which team proceeds to the SCIAC Championship game but also who earns a bid to the inaugural USA Water Polo Division III National Championship, as only the top two finishers in the conference qualify.

Joe Schafer PO ’20 said seeing opposing water polo players in classes and around the 5Cs has led to a feeling of respect between the two teams.

“There are three or four guys on the team who actually take classes with guys on the CMS team,” Schafer said. “So it’s a crazy dynamic, and I think there used to be some past animosity, but now it’s gotten to the point that we have a lot of respect for them and what they do and I think they have that same respect for us.”

Ethan Lewis CM ’20 also cited the respect the Stags have for the Sagehens as he looks forward to Friday.

“They’re a great team and I think we know that and we’ve kind of always known that. … We think really highly of them,” Lewis said. “It’s definitely a huge rivalry. It does make the game a little more intense.”

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Despite their acknowledgement of the Stags’ talent, the Sagehens believe their versatility and coaching will lead them to victory Friday.

“At the end of the day, I think we have depth to our team, too,” Dylan Elliott PO ’21 said. “We can pull guys out and put other people in that we really trust.”

Four male athletes with orange caps cheer.
From left: Kellan Grant PO ’21, Maxwell Bethel PO ’21, Adam Gross PZ ’21, Jacob Niskey PO ’20 erupt in cheers as Pomona-Pitzer blocks Claremont-Mudd-Scripps’ shot during a Nov. 13 Sixth Street rivalry game. (Justin Sleppy • The Student Life)

Elliott scored four goals — including the game-winner — during the most recent Sixth Street matchup. 

“Alex Rodriguez is the best coach I’ve ever played for and I’m certain that he’s going to have us ready for Friday,” he added, citing the P-P head coach.

While the Stags don’t have the same recent playoff experience as the Sagehens, their confidence isn’t wavering as they head into Friday’s high-stakes showdown.

“We might just be a little hungrier to take it from them,” Lewis said. “I think they’ve had a lot of success with us in the past and I think there’s something special about this year. There’s a chip on our shoulder and something we definitely we want to prove.”

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