After a rocky start, the Claremont-Mudd-Scripps men’s water polo team still has ambitious goals for the season — they’re confident they can turn their (3-5, 0-0 SCIAC) record around.
A 7-4 win against Fresno Pacific on Sept. 8 capped off their performance at the UCSD Triton Invitational, ending the three-game losing streak that saw the Stags’ season get off to a less-than-auspicious start.
The team has since gone 2-2, but it’s worth keeping in mind the Stags’ level of competition so far, players said.
“Two of our losses were against [Division I] teams,” Will Clark CM ’22 said. “What’s important to me is that we’re improving every game, and I think we really did that during the UC San Diego tournament.”
Clark’s teammates are also committed to improvement.
“Those were some good learning experiences,” Zack Rossman CM ’20 said of the first few losses of the season. The duo boast impressive records from the 2018 season, with Clark having led the team with 70 points and Rossman a close second at 66.
Last Saturday, the Stags kicked off the Inland Empire Classic with another win, coming in 12-9 over Concordia in a 9 a.m., 99-degree contest featuring strong performances across the board, including a hat-trick from Clark in the first half.
The competition — and the heat — intensified later that day, as temperatures climbed to 101 degrees and the No. 1 USC Trojans broke onto the scene.
The Stags trailed close behind until the last minutes of the first quarter, after which the Trojans fired fast and consistently to leap ahead to a 21-9 end tally.
Still, the team is looking ahead to future games with focus and optimism.
Their opponent of choice? Pomona-Pitzer (3-1, 0-0 SCIAC), their close-at-hand rival, seems to be the object of the Stags’ anticipation.
“It’s just fun to play them, because they always give us their best shot, and we always try to give them our best shot,” Clark said.
Meanwhile, on the other side of Sixth Street, Samuel Sasaki PO ’22 is also eager for rivalry play to commence.
“I’m really excited for it, to see the rivalry grow and grow as the season goes on,” Sasaki said.
The Stags fell 8-5 to the Sagehens Sept. 8 during the Triton Invitational, but the two teams will face off again at Pomona on Oct. 9 and on CMS’ side of Sixth Street on Nov. 13.
The Sagehens themselves are currently enjoying a three-game win streak on the heels of their first game, a loss to Pepperdine in the Triton Tournament. Consistency, it seems, is a Sagehen buzzword, as P-P has been SCIAC’s regular season and tournament champion for the past three years in a row.
Despite these successes, team members say they won’t be resting on their laurels and instead remain energized and focused.
“I think that’s the most important part, is just keeping our energy up and playing really hard and showing up and giving 100% in every practice,” Sasaki said. “Regardless of accolades, I just want to be a better player for the team, and do whatever I can to help us continue to win.”
This sense of determination is perhaps augmented by the fact that last year, the Sagehens graduated powerhouse athlete Adam Ward PO ’19. Ward was SCIAC’s Athlete of the Year in 2018 and Newcomer of the Year in 2015, and accumulated quite the list of titles throughout the years in between.
“It is a challenge when you lose a player that dominant, but I don’t think it’s a challenge that we can’t overcome,” Sasaki said.
One constant the team feels fortunate to have is head coach Alex Rodriguez, who in 2018 was awarded his third Division III Coach of the Year Award.
“He shows up to practice with so much energy and so excited, so much intensity, and I think that really fuels the rest of us,” Sasaki said.
This Saturday, the Sagehens will take on Cal Lutheran. Next up for the Stags is a home game against Caltech the same day.