If any game could have given a coach a heart attack, it would have been the Pomona-Pitzer women’s water polo 15-13 victory over CMS at Las Flores Park in La Verne last Saturday. On this cold and rainy Saturday afternoon, umbrella-less fans huddled together under the shelter of the pool’s cover reel.
The Sagehens lost six of their members to swimming taper for the weekend, yet they still defeated the defending SCIAC Champion University of Redlands squad 13-7 earlier that day with a measly seven field players and two goalies. Set to take on rival CMS, the Sagehens were tired and shorthanded but excited for a big game.
The game started off as most games do, with Head Coach Alex Rodriguez addressing the unusually small group in a pre-game pep talk.
“It doesn’t matter if we win or lose,” he said, in an attempt to calm any nerves in his predominantly first-year audience. He explained that the valuable game experience the young team would gain mattered most to him. This game would have no effect on the overall SCIAC standings: the games that really count do not begin until late March.
Rodriguez has also described how much he has hated losing to CMS in the past, but he did not need to say it in order to motivate the Sagehens. Returning fans will vividly remember the 8-9 loss to the Athenas in last year’s third place game. Of course, every Claremont College attendee enjoys an all-out Sagehen vs. Athena/Stag battle.
The small numbers gave cause for worry from the beginning, as whistle-happy referees frustrated the Sagehens’ defensive efforts and gave Alyssa Woodward PO ’15 two of her three allotted “ejection” fouls in the first quarter alone. The Sagehens and Athenas matched each other goal-for-goal until the first quarter ended with the Athenas ahead 4-3.
The Sagehens pulled ahead in the second quarter, ending with a 9-6 lead at halftime. Unfortunately, Carter Grant PZ ’15 received her third ejection foul to end the second quarter, lowering the available Sagehen substitutions to zero field players and one goalie.
When the teams switched sides and starting goalie Sallie Walecka PO ’15 switched with Rachel Noll PZ ’15 at the start of the third quarter, things got complicated.
After some commotion at the scoring table, the referees explained that an error in the scorebook required that the last two minutes and 48 seconds of the second quarter would have to be replayed. While this dropped the Sagehen lead to 8-6, Grant was given back her third foul and was allowed to return to the game.
With Woodward, Grant and Kerstin Henshall PZ ’14 with two fouls each, Rodriguez could take no chances. He handed Walecka a field player cap and told her to hop back in the pool. Walecka was understandably surprised, as goalies train separately from field players, but she put on a bright smile, jumped back in the pool and played in the field for the rest of the game.
“Sallie’s got really good instincts,” said Assistant Coach Chris Lee during the game. Rodriguez and Lee wondered how they could train her as both a goalie and a field player.
The replayed 2:48 of the second quarter began, and fifteen seconds later, the Athenas scored from point-blank range. The Sagehen lead had been reduced from 9-6 at halftime to 8-7 two minutes later. Time reversal was not working well for Pomona-Pitzer. The Hens answered back with a goal of their own before the second quarter was officially over.
The teams exchanged goals and fouls throughout the third quarter, but the Athenas started the fourth quarter with a 3-0 scoring run, and the Sagehens lost Woodward and Henshall to ejection fouls, again leaving no substitutions for the Hens. With the Hens trailing 12-13, Julia Ticus PO ’13 turned to Vicky Gyorffy PO ’15—both residing on the bench due to taper—and said, only half-jokingly, “So which one of us has to put on a suit?”
Luckily, neither had to. Grant broke the CMS scoring run, followed by goals from Annie Oxborough-Yankus PZ ’12 and Mahalia Prater-Fahey PO ’15 for the final 15-13 score. Grant took her last (technically, her fourth) ejection foul with a minute and a half left in the game. While the Sagehens had to close the game one player short, a key block by Noll on the Athena’s last counterattack and 30 seconds of keep-away secured the Sagehen victory.
The wins over two SCIAC competitors, despite the missing swimmers, give the Sagehens hope for the regular season. They have already faced a wide variety of opponents, from top Division I teams such as UC Berkeley and LMU to fellow SCIAC teams and will continue to compete against DI foes in the tournaments to come.
Rodriguez is confident in the team’s talent and believes that the games against highly competitive DI programs will help the players learn to work as a team, as the strategy has shown in the past. The Sagehens play four games against DI teams March 2-3 in Thousand Oaks, this time with a full squad.