Men’s Water Polo Prepares for SCIAC Tournament

I Live for This!There’s only one postseason. There’s only one Fall Classic. There’s only one SCIAC men’s water polo tournament.This year’s SCIAC men’s water polo tournament should be a dandy, as four teams have a legitimate shot at the championship and a spot in the NCAA tournament. While the conference tournament does not officially start until today at CMS’s Axelrod Pool, the Pomona-Pitzer team was involved in a high-stakes, high-intensity match-up last Saturday against the Kingsmen of Cal Lutheran.The regular season finale and final home game for the senior class carried major seeding implications. The winner would be the third seed and face sixth-seeded Occidental in the first round, while the loser would finish fourth and have to play the significantly more talented CMS at their own pool. Coming off a strong slate of games earlier in the week in which they pounded the hapless LaVerne Leopards 13-4 and played it close with No. 10 Concordia before falling 8-11, the Sagehens looked to build on their momentum.In a preview of the type of intensity we can expect this weekend, however, the Cal Lu Kingsmen came out fired up and jumped out to an early 3-0 lead. Backs against the wall, the Sagehens did not panic. Paced by Jason Cox’s PI ‘13 best performance of the season and riding its raging defense, the team stormed back into the game and passed Cal Lu for an 8-5 victory.“[Cox] has a knack to score,” said Coach Alexander Rodriguez. “He just goes to the right place at the right time.”Beyond Cox, Rodriguez was proud of his team’s play after falling behind early. “We just played better D. Senior day can be a little emotional, and Cal Lu came out ready to play, but once we withstood their initial run we settled in and controlled the game. It was great to get a huge performance from J-Cox.”While impressive on offense, Cox was by no means a one-man show as Pomona-Pitzer benefited from two goals from fellow freshman Mark Hudnall PO ’13 and one goal each from Jason Henshall PI ’10 and team leader and conference player of the year candidate Ben Hadley PO ’11. Goalie Kyle Pokorny PO ’12 once again had a solid day in the cage, stopping seven shots.Now it is time for what so many major league players live for: the playoffs. This year’s field is fairly open as any of the top four teams seem capable of beating each other.Regular season champion Whittier went a perfect 7-0 in conference, but the Poets barely eked out a win against Pomona-Pitzer in a tight 9-10 game, and played close with Redlands (11-8) and CMS (10-8).Second in the regular season was Redlands. The Sagehens lost to the Bulldogs 6-8 during a rough patch three weeks ago. Redlands’ (6-1) only conference loss was to the first-place Poets, and the Bulldogs figure to be as tough as always.The final major roadblock in the Sagehens’ quest for a three-peat is Cal Lutheran. The fourth-place Kingsmen (4-3) lost only to the three teams above them in the standings, and they return many of the stars (such as Matt Heagy) that propelled them to a surprise championship appearance last fall.The most likely road to the championship for Pomona-Pitzer will go through sixth-seeded Occidental (whom they already played poorly against and still beat 15-13) and two of the three teams mentioned above (likely Redlands and Whittier). This is a doable task, but will require a level of play at or above what the team showed it was capable of early this season in back-to-back wins over No. 11 Santa Clara and No. 20 Cal Baptist.Playing your best come playoff time is what every team strives to do, and the water polo team is trying to minimize its deficiencies.“We’ve been working in practice on getting the ball in to the two-meter man,” commented assistant coach Jim Armstrong.“We need to come out and play with the right energy,” added coach Rodriguez. “Like Spartans.”Like last year’s SCIAC tournament, the field is open to numerous contenders. But unlike that tournament, the games will be played within walking distance of this campus at CMS today, Saturday, and Sunday for the championship game. P-P’s match-up with Occidental will be at 2:30 p.m. today. A victory would put the Sagehens in the semifinals at 12:30 p.m. on Saturday, and the championship is scheduled for 2:15 p.m. on Sunday.Rodriguez is cautiously optimistic about his team’s chances to walk back across 6th St. with a third straight SCIAC Tournament Championship.“I think we will play our best polo,” he said. “We are very excited for the weekend.”As one of the more exciting sports to watch on campus, the SCIAC water polo playoffs are sure not to disappoint. The bottom line is this: if the Pomona-Pitzer men’s water polo team plays like it is capable of playing, it will show that it is in fact one of the great teams that uses the pressure of the playoffs to reach new heights.

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