In a home victory Wednesday against Caltech, the Claremont-Mudd-Scripps women’s water polo team extended their SCIAC season win streak to 8-1. The victory followed a win against Chapman March 23 in which the Athenas won 11-7 at the Allred Aquatics Center.
Cooper McKenna CM ’24 scored two goals against Chapman, one of which was made during the third quarter after an assist from Maddy Menard CM ’22 across the pool.
“The verbal communication that occurred seconds before [the goal], calling for the ball and finding open players, was the key to making this play happen,” she said. “If we continue to make these plays and play for one another, we will be a solid team going into the championship.”
It was a tighter match than the Athenas’ game against Chapman earlier in March, where they won 22-1. Jessica Salaz SC ’22 attributed the closer game to an improvement in energy and level of play from Chapman, but she also recognized the Athenas for adapting their offense and defense to the Panthers’ one minute into the match.
“This adaptation helped to limit the number of goals Chapman was able to create during this first half of the game,” Salaz said. “We have an incredibly hard-working defensive team. Each field player works tirelessly on the defensive end in order to discourage any good looks at the goal from the opposing team.”
Salaz, a goalie, had three saves in the first half before turning over the goal to Ruth Efe CM ’22 who had three saves of her own.
Christina Kulick CM ’23 scored three goals including one in the second quarter which, alongside a goal from Emily McElroy SC ’22, doubled the Athenas’ score to 4-1. After the Panthers scored twice back-to-back, Emma Brezoczky CM ’22 responded by scoring on a 6-on-5 to bring the score to 5-3 going into the second half.
“The energy during the final goal and I think throughout most of the game was that the score was always a bit closer than we would have liked but that we were in control,” McKenna explained. “Towards the end when we were able to expand our lead a little bit, I think it helped get the energy higher and remind us of what we could do as a team.”
In the second half, Kulick kicked off the third quarter with a goal followed by goals from Mia Adsen SC ’24, McKenna and Dara Schoolcraft CM ’25 who converted on a 6-on-5. Kulick and McKenna notched the final goals of the game, while the Athenas’ defense held off the Panthers for victory.
It’s a unique year for spring sports like women’s water polo, for which the last SCIAC championships were in 2019, when this year’s seniors were freshman. But, since the Athenas water polo team finished 5th in the conference that year, they didn’t compete at SCIACs.
McElroy, Menard, Brezoczky and Salaz are among the senior Athenas on the water polo team looking toward their first and potentially final championship match.
“While it’s a little nerve wracking going into the championship … I know I have the backing of a very talented team that continually strives to be better,” Salaz said. “As this is my last year to label myself as a collegiate athlete, I am also incredibly excited to have this opportunity and happy to go into this competition with an incredibly talented team.”
The team’s juniors will be celebrating their SCIAC championship debut.
“I am so grateful to be back playing,” said Kulick. “I missed playing competitive sports a lot during the pandemic and being back with such a strong and supportive group of women is the best thing I could have asked for during my first full season.”
First-place Pomona-Pitzer has an undefeated SCIAC victory streak of 8-0 so far this season, while CMS is at 8-1, having lost only to the Sagehens in their 2022 SCIAC matches. The Sagehens and Athenas are 14-15 and 12-6 overall, respectively.
McKenna cited some pressure in the Athenas’ upcoming road games against Cal Lutheran and Whittier after having beaten them by 1 point each.
“It will definitely be a challenge,” McKenna said. “And of course I’m looking forward to the next time we play P-P, this time being at home and also having more confidence in ourselves to start the game off stronger.”