The Division III number-one-ranked Pomona-Pitzer men’s water polo team finished their 11-game streak of top 20 ranked Division I opponents with a 7-13 loss to Loyola Marymount University (LMU) last Saturday.
Since the team’s first games Sept. 1, the Sagehens have played number-one-ranked USC, number-nine-ranked Long Beach State and number-18-ranked Concordia twice each. They also have played against number-two-ranked UCLA, number-three-ranked UC Irvine, number-ten-ranked LMU, number-12-ranked UC Davis and number-14-ranked Santa Clara once.
Every year, the men’s and women’s water polo teams withstand a barrage of Division I opponents in the preseason before they move onto regular season SCIAC play. The Division I opposition does not end here, however. The Sagehens will face UC San Diego at the end of October and will see other competitors during the Western Water Polo Association (WWPA) Championships following the SCIAC Championships in November.
Despite the overwhelming odds against them, the Sagehens hold their own against the nation’s best. In last weekend’s NorCal Tournament at Stanford, they led Santa Clara at halftime but lost by two, and they narrowly lost in overtime during their second match against Concordia.
Coach Alex Rodriguez, last season’s Division III Coach of the Year, is proud of the way the Sagehens have improved in the last 11 games, though an 0-11 record may not show that improvement. From a starting point of 3-20 and 5-16 losses to USC and UCLA, respectively, Sept. 1, their matches have gotten progressively closer. Even with the absence of some starters in the game against LMU due to sickness, the Sagehens hung in there for most of the game. They fell behind 0-5 early in the match, but bounced back in the second half to prevent the LMU lead from getting out of hand.
“Our confidence is getting better and better,” Rodriguez said.
As defending SCIAC champions and current number-one Division III rank, the Sagehens will need to maintain that confidence in the upcoming SCIAC matches. With the unusually late start of school this year, the Sagehens were on campus a week earlier than last year, allowing them to extend their training before their first games.
The Sagehens play their first SCIAC match at home in Haldeman Pool this upcoming Wednesday, Oct. 3 at 4 p.m. against the La Verne Leopards, whose victory over number-14-ranked Santa Clara last weekend has thrown the water polo community for a loop.
“[The La Verne match] has always been tough,” Rodriguez said.
The Sagehens would prefer to secure a more comfortable win than their 13-12 victory in the first round of the WWPA tournament last year. They were ahead 13-8 with two minutes left to play and barely managed to fend off a La Verne rally. At least this year they know La Verne is a team who can come back from a seemingly impossible deficit.
Rodriguez and the head coach at La Verne know each other’s coaching styles and instruct their own teams accordingly.
“They have a lot of new guys,” Rodriguez said of the La Verne squad, as opposed to the Sagehens, who have a large core group built up from last year.
The Sagehens have added five freshmen to the squad, but the rest of the 22 members are back from last year. Despite the large number of returners, the team dynamic has changed and each player is starting to find his role on the team. Rodriguez noted Ryan Higgins PO ’14, who is establishing himself as one of the main scorers. Last year’s Division III First-Team All-American Jason Cox PO ’13 continues to lead the Sagehens. Tyler Hill PO ’14 has been a threat in the cage against all the Division I shooters, replacing another former Division III First-Team All-American goalie, Kyle Pokorny PO ’12. Mark Hudnall PO ’13 and Cody Moore PO ’13 are the Division III Second-Team All-American members who return this year. WWPA All-Rookie team member Stephen Vint PZ ’15 is also among the returners.
The defending SCIAC champion Sagehens look forward to an exciting game against the unpredictable Leopards. The Sagehens hope to turn their losing streak around during the next month.
The Sagehens will play four home games next weekend, most notably against Harvard the night of Friday, Oct. 5 and Division III number-two-ranked Johns Hopkins Saturday afternoon, Oct. 6, when they host the Gary Troyer Tournament, formerly called the Claremont Convergence.