After slipping past the Athena defense, Anna Yu PO ’19 caught a high-arcing pass and rocketed the ball into the bottom left corner of the net with under two minutes left, ending Claremont-Mudd-Scripps’ chances at not only a comeback, but a trip to the SCIAC tournament.
With an 8-5 win in the Sixth Street Rivalry game Saturday, the Pomona-Pitzer women’s water polo team (19-12, 14-0 SCIAC) sealed its second straight undefeated regular season in conference play, and the top seed in the upcoming tournament, where it will face La Verne (11-13, 9-5 SCIAC) in the semifinals Friday.
P-P has dominated the Sixth Street Rivalry as of late. No player on the current roster has ever lost to CMS, as the Sagehens have won 13 straight against the Athenas, dating back to 2011.
For Sagehens coach Alex Rodriguez, this has taken some of the steam out of the rivalry.
“I don’t think we have that school-on-school rivalry like a lot of other teams have on campus,” Rodriguez said. “The girls take it a little more serious I think, because it is CMS, but I think Whittier has really been our rival the last four or five years. The physical play picks up a lot more with them.”
For the Athenas (9-15, 7-7 SCIAC), however, the rivalry — coupled with the pressure to punch a ticket to the SCIAC tournament — provided extra motivation to win the game.
“We definitely have different game-day rituals for the P-P game,” Alex Szymczak SC ’22 said. “We do more film, and we do more warm-ups and preparation and more team bonding stuff because we always play them at the end of the season, and it’s usually the dealbreaker if we will make it into SCIACs or not.”
CMS got off to a good start, only trailing 3-2 at halftime. However, a tight game was just what the slow-moving Sagehens needed to wake up — they outscored the Athenas 3-0 in the third.
“It was pretty close in the first half, which I think was even more motivating for us to pull ahead in the second half. … It continues to show us that we have to continue to work hard for every win that we pull out,” Lucie Abele PO ’22 said.
P-P has been pulling out a lot of wins lately — the team has won the past two SCIAC tournament titles, and is currently riding a 35-game win streak against the rest of the conference. A win in the conference tournament this weekend will give the Sagehens a three-peat.
“It definitely feels really gratifying to be able to go the whole season undefeated because we train really hard, we practice a lot, we put in a lot of hours, a lot of effort, and so to see all of our practice and all of our training pay off with an undefeated season feels really great,” Abele said.
Much of the team’s success is credited to the leadership of its senior core.
“They all have so much experience and so much dedication, and I think that it shows us younger players that the hard work that they’ve put in in the past has led them to be as successful as they are,” Abele said. “It shows us that if we work hard in these years we can reach that point also.”
Over their four years, the senior class has posted a 42-2 record against SCIAC competition and hopes to win three straight championships to close out their careers.
“It’ll mean a lot to me [to win the SCIAC tournament],” Kahea Kahaulelio PZ ’19 said. “That’s the game everyone watches because of the competitiveness, the fight and passion between the two teams.”
Rodriguez also had high praise for the seniors.
“They’ve gone through a lot with their first year being my sabbatical and not making the finals, and then the last three years have been a nice ride for them,” Rodriguez said. “I don’t think we have one super dominant senior; I think all eight contribute and at their own time could be the best player in the pool.”
Although the seniors are the core contributors, they know they can’t do it alone.
“My seniors and I lead by example,” Kahaulelio said. “Leadership is all about having confidence in your teammates and preparing the newcomers for the intensity of this game.”
Although the rivalry has been one-sided recently, the tables may turn in the coming years as the Sagehens lose key players to graduation and the young Athenas continue to progress.
“Because we have such a large team and next year we’ll only have two seniors, we’re so young that I think in the coming years it’ll definitely change the outcome of the game,” Szymczak said.
While the seniors will certainly be missed, Rodriguez is looking forward to the transition.
“It’s happened before,” Rodriguez said of the impending mass departure. “I’m very excited for the freshmen and the returners we have. It’ll be way different, but I think part of me and part of the staff are excited for that new challenge.”
But while big changes are on the horizon for the Sagehens, right now the team is focused on La Verne and the SCIAC tournament.
Despite the consequences of last Saturday’s loss and the historic rivalry, the Sagehens will still have some members of the CMS team in their corner as they close out the season.
“Part of me is still a little bit butthurt and sour about the loss obviously, but I think I definitely will be rooting for them out of all the teams, because I have classes with some of the girls and they’re our friends and we’ve played with them before,” Szymczak said.