There wasn’t an empty seat in the stands last Wednesday at Haldeman Pool.
Fans from across the consortium crowded together to watch the Claremont-Mudd-Scripps (CMS) Athenas face the Pomona-Pitzer (P-P) Sagehens in the first and only women’s water polo Sixth Street Rivalry match-up scheduled for the 2023 regular season.
The intense, aggressive match-up was a nail-biter; P-P thwarted a near-comeback from CMS in the fourth quarter to emerge with a narrow victory, winning 13-10.
Five of the Sagehens’ 13 goals were scored by Abby Wiesenthal PO ’24, a utility player for the P-P. She said she was happy with the end result of the game.
“We had some ups and downs during that game … but we pulled out the win and that’s what counts,” Wiesenthal said.
The game started off in a deadlock and remained scoreless until CMS scored the first goal of the night halfway through the first quarter. Within less than a minute, however, P-P responded with two goals. CMS took back the lead by scoring twice before the quarter ended and the Athenas were up 3-2 going into the first break.
CMS got one more at the start of the second quarter after Cooper McKenna CM ’24 converted a 5-meter penalty, but P-P started to catch up after that. The half ended 5-4 in favor of the Sagehens after an intense scoring streak, which P-P assistant coach Elyssa Hawkins said was brought on by a specific defensive strategy.
“We knew going into this matchup, a press defense would force pressure on their offense to make passes we could read, anticipate and steal for more offensive opportunities,” Hawkins said.
The intensity of the game remained high at the start of the third quarter, with both teams drawing lots of fouls and calling timeouts to strategize how to best take advantage of their opponents’ exclusions.
“Our biggest area for improvement following this game was in our scoring opportunities,” Hawkins said. “We especially had a lot of six-on-five extra player advantages, but we did not capitalize on all of them. That comes with improving our communication, shot selection and execution of our game plan.”
Still, P-P retained its lead throughout the third quarter, always thwarting CMS six-on-five and striking back with quick counterattacks, and the quarter ended with PP up 8-6.
The fourth quarter was by far the most intense. Early on, two players from opposing sides got tangled up in an aggressive fight for the ball and kept preventing each other from getting it after the referee blew the whistle for a foul. Not pleased with the decision, the CMS head coach protested and was given a yellow card.
P-P’s Brienz Lang PO ’26 and Paulina Correa PZ ’23 scored a goal each shortly thereafter, celebrating wildly. This only started a fire in the Athenas, however, who scored three goals in the span of two minutes — two from Isabel Del Villar CM ’26 and one from Grace Clark CM ’26 — bringing the Athenas within one point of the Sagehens (10-9) with two minutes left.
P-P’s Lulu Gaither PZ ’25 scored one more, bringing the score to 11-9, after which CMS called a timeout. Their strategizing couldn’t stop the Sagehens, though, who scored two more goals afterward. With one minute left, the Athenas didn’t have much hope of pulling out a win. Still, they fought to the end, even bringing the goalkeeper up for a seven-on-six advantage in the waning seconds of the match. Miraculously, Christina Kulick CM ’23 scored a buzzer-beater to make the final score 13-10.
Fiona Murphy SC ’26, who had one goal on the night, said the last-minute effort by Kulick was representative of the energy she brings to the team.
“Christina … never gave up,” Murphy said. “Scoring a buzzer beater goal in the fourth quarter … I just always admire [her] effort, talent, and leadership in the pool.”
Clark said that losing in such dramatic fashion was tough for the Athenas but that they are trying to take away some positives from it.
“The result of [the] game was disappointing for our team,” Clark said. “But the loss has brought us closer together and is motivating us to work harder in the last few weeks of the season.”
Hawkins said the Sagehens are using this win to propel them into the postseason.
“With the win, we close in on solidifying our spot as regular season champions and the No. 1 seed in the postseason tournament,” Hawkins said. “We are the defending SCIAC Regular Season, SCIAC Tournament and National Champions, so one of our goals is to repeat all those titles.”
After their Saturday 22-3 win over Caltech, the Sagehens remain undefeated in SCIAC Conference play, with three conference games to go before the postseason tournament starts on April 28. The Athenas won their Saturday match against Redlands 9-3. Their loss to P-P was their first in conference play. With their dominant conference performances, both teams expect to face each other again in their battle for the SCIAC tournament title.