Sagehens Sink in Semifinals to Champion Redlands

The Pomona-Pitzer men’s water polo team finished Sunday in a place none of the seniors had ever been: watching the SCIAC tournament final from the bleachers. An unceremonious end to a decorated career, the senior class failed to capture a third straight SCIAC championship and a spot in this weekend’s Western Water Polo Association (WWPA) Tournament.

The Sagehens’ bid for a third straight title was derailed Saturday afternoon in the semifinals at Claremont-Mudd-Scripps’ Axelrod pool against the eventual champion Redlands Bulldogs. P-P never really got it going in a 13-9 loss that left both players and fans frustrated.

“I think after earlier this season we were expecting to roll,” commented Ben Hadley PO ’11. “We always thought we’d be in the final. I still maintain we were the best team in SCIAC but just didn’t play up to it.”

Hadley felt compelled to add, “In the words of [Coach] Alex Rodriguez borrowing from [former UCLA men’s basketball coach] John Wooden, ‘The season has peaks and valleys. Ours just came at the wrong time.’”In Sunday’s third-place game, a lack luster effort sent the Sagehens into the offseason with an 8-3 loss to regular season champion and WWPA participant Whittier College. P-P’s lone win of the weekend came against Occidental in the first round by a score of 11-4.

“Third-place game is a weird place to be,” said senior leader Robbie Hayes PO ’10. Dan Kadvany PO ’10 also offered his insight: “Third-place game: not that tight.”

Instead of preparing to take on top-20 teams and a heavily desired potential rematch with Santa Clara, the men’s water polo team is left wondering what might have been. A team that at one point was the hottest topic on the national water polo scene flopped their way to a disappointing finish.

“Good season, terrible ending,” Rodriguez remarked. “The journey was well worth it with great memories.”

While it is always easier to dwell on the negatives and the sour taste this ending left in the mouths of many, it is important to remember the positives that came out of the season.This year’s seniors amassed 64 wins, went to the WWPA tournament three times, and collected two SCIAC championships in their four years here.

This year’s men’s water polo team defeated Santa Clara—its second highest ranked opponent ever—and achieved a national No. 20 for the week of Oct. 14.

An eight-game win streak from Sep. 17 to Oct. 17 gave Sagehen fans a taste of what this team was capable of. Playing some of its best polo of the season, the team collected notable wins over Harvard (11-8), No. 11 Santa Clara (10-9), and No. 20 Cal Baptist (12-8).

There was also stellar individual play this season. Hadley and Ryan Balikian PO ’11 went toe to toe all season on goals, with Hadley edging Balikian 33 to 32 (to be fair, Hadley did take 17 more attempts). However, it was newcomer Jason Cox PI ’13 who rode a strong second half of the season and an infectious attitude to lead the team with 13 SCIAC goals.

Rodriguez had the following to say about his freshman’s play: “Jason Cox played well, especially late in the season. He got stronger every game.”

Not only did Hadley lead in overall goals, but he also led the team with six SCIAC assists, 20 overall assists, and 38 steals, tying Mark Hudnall PO ’13 for team lead with eight steals in SCIAC.

On the ejection side of things, it was the Pomona freshman tandem of Hudnall and Cody Moore PO ’13 leading the way, with 29 ejections drawn and 20 ejections taken respectively. Along with fellow freshman Jason Cox, the young “trident” of players will look to build off successful freshman campaigns and really make a name for themselves in the coming years.

Another bright spot was goalie Kyle Pokorny PO ’12. Although still considered by many to be a prospective student due to his boyish grin and a perceived lack of college experience, the sophomore goalie adequately replaced Grant Cooper PI ’09. He ended the season with a 50.6 percent save percentage in SCIAC and 47.1 percent overall.

While this year’s senior class did not have any statistical standouts, there are reasons they are one of the greatest senior classes in P-P water polo history. Their leadership, depth, and camaraderie were epitomized on the group’s last play of their college water polo career when David Rudolph PI ’10 floated a pass over the fingertips of a Whittier defender to fellow senior Hayes for an emphatic one-timer slam into the net.

“Heartwarming goal, but unfortunately, totally irrelevant,” Hayes said. “Good feeling to be out there with the seniors but would have been better with a four-goal lead.”

Coach Rodriguez spoke very highly of his seniors. “Class acts. Five four-year seniors and two-year transfer David Lee PO ’10 have been a huge part of reshaping this program. We’ll miss their leadership and maturity,” Rodriguez said.

Next year’s squad will return a lot of talent and has the potential to regain P-P’s rightful perch atop SCIAC, a reality that tickles the graduating Hayes.

“I am really excited for next year’s team. They return a lot of talent and leadership, all the way down to this year’s freshmen,” Hayes said. “There were points in the third and fourth quarters of the Redlands game—so the most important part of the most important game of the season—when no seniors were in the pool. That speaks volumes about those guys and what they are capable of.”

Not every team can have a fairy-tale ending. “One Shinning Moment” only plays for one team every year, and this year the cards did not fall into place for the Sagehens. Make no mistake, this year’s P-P water polo team was no Cinderella, but it’s hard to escape feeling like this time midnight struck a little too soon.

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