With strong defense and a crowd spilling out of the bleachers onto the edges of Haldeman Pool, the Pomona-Pitzer men’s water polo team notched its first win this past Saturday, defeating 15th-ranked Navy 10-7. The Sagehens improved to a 1-7 record.
Coming off a 14-8 loss to 18th-ranked Cal Baptist earlier in the day (a team that Navy defeated 11-10 in a different match that same day), the Sagehens came out strong in the water, generating key turnovers and capitalizing on offensive opportunities. “Navy physically could dominate us, but we were able to match their intensity and sort of weather the storm,” goalkeeper and captain Kyle Pokorny PO ’12 commented.
Navy senior Kyle Wertz struck first with an uncontested goal only one minute into the game, but the Sagehens waged a spirited battle on the high seas of Haldeman in what Pokorny described as a key but “rocky” first quarter. “What kept us in that game was keeping the first quarter close,” he said. The offense “sparked it up from the very beginning,” coming alive with two goals in the last minute by Jarrod Gaut PZ ’14 and Stephen Vint PZ ’15. As the first buzzer sounded, the lights on the scoreboard flashed to show a 3-3 tie, a good omen of things to come.
The Navy Midshipmen started the second quarter with two consecutive missed shots before putting one in the net to take a 4-3 lead with 6:40 on the clock. But Jaron Moler PO ’12 and Jason Cox PZ ’13 would respond with goals of their own, giving the Sagehens a 5-4 lead at the end of the half.
The Sagehens proceeded to shut out the Midshipmen in the third quarter, adding a goal apiece from Cox, Mark Hudnall PO ’13, and Moler. Navy junior Jesse Walker came close to scoring on a breakaway with 3:30 left in the quarter, but was denied in a key save by Pokorny, who tallied seven saves for the day. The Midshipmen made an offensive run in the fourth quarter, but two goals by Cody Moore PO ’13 and Dylan O’Connell PO ’14 sealed the victory for the Sagehens.
In the Cal Baptist matchup earlier that day, the Sagehens were outmatched almost right out of the gate, with the Lancers jumping out to an early lead and never looking back. P-P made a desperate attempt at a tie, bringing the score to 8-6, but failed to sustain the momentum.
“It was discouraging but motivating at the same time,” Pokorny said. “We were tired of losing.”
“The difference in [the Navy] game was our intensity level,” Pokorny said. “Every single person all the way down the line was way more pumped up than in any other game this year.”
The tremendously spirited crowd that showed up for the first night game of the year was also a key element in the Sagehen victory, according to both Pokorny and Coach Alex Rodriguez. Orange towels could be seen scattered throughout the stands, twirling over the heads of an audience ranging from parents to former water polo players to students. The crowd “motivated the team” and “gave us life,” Rodriguez said. A plethora of chants echoed across the pool throughout the game, including “Let’s go Army!” and the popular “We love Cox!”
Although many players returned to the team this year, the Sagehens have been forced to alter their style of play due to the losses of powerhouses Ben Hadley PO ’11 and Ryan Balikian PO ’11, “two of the best players to play water polo at Pomona,” Pokorny said. The team has been focusing more on driving plays, where players create movement in an attempt to disrupt the defense. This loss also forces the players to find “more creative ways to score,” Pokorny said, since “we don’t have as much firepower from the outside.” Having been in practice for only a month, the team hasn’t “implemented all the facets of [their] game,” Rodriguez said.
With the first victory of the season under their belts, the Sagehens are looking optimistically toward the weeks to come. “Every weekend we come out, and there’s a huge improvement,” Rodriguez said. The Sagehens face off against tough, 8th-ranked UC Santa Barbara for the third time tomorrow. “Our goal is to play with their second line,” Pokorny said. “Hopefully we can surprise them.”