The question of which team would claim victory hung in the air until 25 seconds remained, when Alexander Peterson PO ’24 found the back of the cage. With the lead extended to 12-10 for the Pomona-Pitzer men’s water polo team, Sagehen fans and players breathed a sigh of relief as the clock ticked down to zero.
The energy at Haldeman Pool was electric on Saturday night, with the Sagehens securing the position of the SCIAC regular-season champions.
With this win, the Sagehens finished their regular season with the best record in the conference and earned the top seed for the upcoming SCIAC tournament. However, this win was not an easy one for the Sagehens.
Throughout the beginning of the match, the Stags built a nice lead for themselves with a 3-0 scoring run. Andrew Plashche PZ ’25 put P-P on the board to end this run, but CMS notched two more goals before the first quarter ended. With the score 5-1 at the end of the first quarter, Kyle Green PO ’24 said the Sagehens reflected on what needed to change.
“We were going to have to come out with more aggression on offense and play better team defense,” Green said. “Communication defensively was key.”
Jack Ryan PZ ’25 believes this discussion was essential for reinforcing their initial game plan.
“We had to stick to our original plan and not let the atmosphere or scoreboard get to our heads,” Ryan said. “It was just a wake-up call that we came out with low intensity and needed to try a little bit harder.”
P-P came in hot in the second quarter with two quick goals from Peterson and Ben Sasaki PO ’22, finishing the quarter with a goal from Sam Sasaki PO ’22. With a score of 6-4 CMS at the end of the first half, the Sagehens’ adjustments proved worthwhile.
“I think [my goal] came at an important time to give us some confidence,” Peterson said. “When you are down several goals, it is easy to be afraid of making mistakes.”
The Sagehens needed to strike early in the second half to assert themselves. With this in mind, Green scored at the beginning of the second half.
“My defender left me, and my teammate, Matija Jancic PO ’23, made a great extra pass that perfectly set me up to score,” Green said. “There wasn’t anything special about the play, but making the extra pass and trusting your teammates is the water polo that we strive to play.”
Zachary Kaplan PO ’25 also found the back of the net early in the third quarter, erasing CMS’ lead. The third quarter ended with a score of 8-8 after both teams notched two more goals.
The Sagehens and Stags fought tirelessly throughout the second half. The Sagehens’ resilience, cohesive team defense and relentless offense kept them competitive.
“We all understood that we were going to have to keep fighting and push ourselves in order to come out of the game with a win,” Green said.
Maintaining composure in every play was key for the Sagehens’ path to victory. Ryan said he knew that the Sagehens were capable of winning this game because of their caliber.
“The key factor was taking the game play by play and slowly closing the gap,” Ryan said. “By the second half, we realized that we were hyping up CMS too much.”
With two minutes left in the fourth quarter, Ryan scored a critical goal that extended the Sagehens’ lead to 10-8.
“I just tried my best to rip the ball as hard as I could,” Ryan said. “I was pretty stoked on scoring — it’s a good feeling to look up at the stands and see my Sagehen community cheering.”
CMS put another goal on the board to narrow the score to 10-9 Sagehens. With one tenuous minute left, Ben Sasaki and Peterson took matters into their own hands, each scoring to seal the win with a 12-10 victory for the Sagehens.
Peterson was eager to commend his teammate, Jancic, for his selflessness that led to his scoring opportunity.
“Matija could have taken the shot himself, but he made a heads-up play to ensure we got that important 12th goal,” Peterson said. “The goal felt good, as I was forced to sit out much of the second and third quarters due to foul trouble early on. It was nice to get back in the water and contribute in the fourth quarter.”
While the Sagehens celebrate their regular season champions title, they are also looking forward to how they will prepare for the SCIAC tournament.
“We will look to stay in great swimming shape and study the film of our last few games to identify areas for improvement as a group,” Peterson said. “When we know our opponent, we will come ready to fight on Friday night and defend our home pool.”
Ryan emphasized that this is just another step in the journey to the team’s overarching goal: another national championship title.
“If everyone stays healthy and focused, I don’t see a reason why we shouldn’t finish this season with a ring,” Ryan said.