The Pomona-Pitzer men’s water polo team (24-9, 14-0 SCIAC) capped off an undefeated run in the SCIAC with a comfortable 11-4 victory against Sixth Street rivals Claremont-Mudd-Scripps (16-11, 10-4 SCIAC) Nov. 18, to win their third straight SCIAC championship.
However, water polo at P-P is far from over this year; in fact, it is only beginning for the women’s team, which is currently in the process of training and playing their preseason schedule before the season officially commences in January.
Much like the men’s team, the women’s team has been dominant in the SCIAC over the last several years, having won back-to-back championships, including six of the last seven.
“Last year was the most dominant team I’ve ever seen in SCIAC … To have a majority of that team returning is exciting,” head coach Alex Rodriguez said.
The team is focused on bringing home yet another title this season, but perhaps more important to the players is winning the NCAA tournament play-in game.
The play-in game is played by the SCIAC champion — usually against a strong Division I team — and is an obstacle the Sagehens have not been able to overcome yet. Last year, P-P fell 16-2 to UC Irvine in the play-in game, despite having an impressive season in which they went undefeated in the SCIAC and even beat the Chinese national team.
“We lost pretty handily last year, and I think that it has ignited this deep drive to win,” Morgan Stockham PZ ’19 said.
Although achieving this goal will definitely be a challenge, the Sagehens are more than ready to prepare to the best of their ability.
“This year’s going to be different than any other year, and we’re going to go far,” Janelle “Gigi” Lewis PO ’19 said.
Of course, part of that preparation comes before the season, and the athletes have been doing their part in making sure that they enter the season as ready as possible, with many of them choosing to both lift and swim on their own to keep in shape during the offseason.
The men’s and women’s water polo teams this season have implemented mental coaching as part of their training, bringing in coaches to help specifically with the mental aspect of gameplay.
“How to mentally prepare for a competition, how to mentally prepare to be able to work through games and championship moments, I think that’s something we’re striving for,” Rodriguez said.
Both the players and coaches understand that this year’s team is a unique group. Specifically having lost two key seniors from last year, the team has had to adapt and develop a new playing style.
“We’ve had to evolve to become more of a driving team and be quicker with a lot more movement, ” Crystal Huang PO ’20 said.
In addition to the more team-oriented approach in the pool, perhaps the defining characteristics of this season’s group of players are the special closeness and strong chemistry that have already developed in the preseason.
“All the stuff that we do as a team solidifies the dynamic of the team so that when we go into the season, we all work well with each other,” Allison Sullivan-Wu PO ’22 said.
So far, the preseason has yielded some positive results, including a 12-10 win against Division I team Marist College Nov. 11 at the USA Water Polo Collegiate Cup. P-P will begin its regular season next semester.