P-P men’s water polo fends off CMS to claim national title

P-P defenders guard against a CMS offender with the ball
A strong Sagehen defense and saves from Kellan Grant PO ’21 helped Pomona-Pitzer overcome the Stags to take the USA Water Polo Division III championship Sunday afternoon. (Jasper Davidoff • The Student Life)

In a nail-biter that came down to the second round of overtime, the Pomona-Pitzer men’s water polo team beat Claremont-Mudd-Scripps 13-12 Sunday afternoon to win the USA Water Polo Division III championship.

The rivals had emerged at the top of a weekend tournament at Pomona College’s Haldeman Pool after beating out the east coast representatives, Collegiate Water Polo Association top teams Johns Hopkins and MIT, on Saturday. Contesting the second-ever USA Water Polo national tournament, which was established in 2019 as a DIII alternative to the NCAA’s contest and cancelled last year amid the pandemic, CMS made its second appearance, while the SCIAC champion Sagehens made their debut.

The teams were neck-and-neck for most of the game, matching each other shot for shot and goal for goal. P-P heavyweights Sam Sasaki PO ’23 and Ben Sasaki PO ’23 led the team with four goals apiece, while CMS star Christian Pang CM ’24 propelled the Stags with four goals of his own.

But it may have been All-SCIAC goalkeeper Kellan Grant PO ’21 who gave P-P the edge, holding off 17 shots with a 58 percent success rate, compared with 35 percent for counterpart Noah Smith HM ’22. 

Ben Sasaki holds the ball
The Sasaki brothers powered P-P’s offense, including four goals from Ben Sasaki PO ’23. (Jasper Davidoff • The Student Life)

A contentious match throughout, fans hurled jabs about fouls called and missed. CMS led 3-2 at the end of the first quarter, but its fans called “bullshit!” after Matija Jancic PO ’23 scored to tie up the first half at 6 points apiece.

CMS went on a scoring spree in the first four minutes of the second half, opening up a three point lead with contributions from CJ Box CM ’21, Len Korol CM ’25 and Robert Driscoll CM ’21. The Hens began working their way out of the hole with help from Sam Sasaki and Dylan Elliot PO ’21, finishing the third quarter with nine points to the Stags’ 11.

Additional goals from Ben and Sam Sasaki tied the game up at 11-11 with five and a half minutes to go. Kyle Green PZ ’24 opened up a brief lead a minute later, but Pang quickly followed up to match the Hens’ 12 points.

Christian Pang prepares for a shot
Christian Pang CM ’24 led the Stags with three goals in the back half. (Jasper Davidoff • The Student Life)

Grant blocked a CMS shot with a second to go in regular time, sending the championship into two rounds of three minute overtime. The first progressed with no points, but Ben Sasaki used an opening to get past Smith with two and a half minutes left in the second, bringing fans to their feet. Holding off the Stags for the rest of the round, Grant blocked a last-second attempt by Will Clark CM ’22, and Sagehens and their supporters jumped into the pool in celebration as the clock passed zero.

Despite losing longtime players on both sides, including some holdovers who took time off last year to play their final season, Claremont’s closeout of the Division III contest shows the Sagehens and Stags are poised to defend their dominance in 2022/

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