Despite putting up a strong fight through all four quarters, the Pomona-Pitzer Men’s Water Polo team was edged by the seventh-ranked UC Santa Barbara Gauchos this past Saturday, 9-8. With the loss, they fell to 1-8, but also moved into a tie for 20th in the national rankings. They remain in the number one spot in Division III.
Led by Jason Cox PZ ’13 and his four goals, and riding their first victory of the season, the team continued to display the signs of vast improvement that are typical in the early weeks of the season, according to Head Coach Alex Rodriguez. “Every game we get better,” he said. The Sagehens had previously lost to the Gauchos 16-4 on opening day, and 12-7 in a second matchup two weeks earlier in the season.
“It was kind of what we would consider an off weekend,” Captain Kyle Pokorny PO ’12 said. “Winning would’ve been great, but losing wasn’t detrimental to our season at all…We definitely turned some heads.”
Playing against a Gaucho team that had already persevered through a grueling double-overtime loss to 14th-ranked Concordia earlier that day, the Sagehens were able to physically and strategically compete with the normally “much bigger, much faster” Santa Barbara team, Pokorny said.
“You can neutralize speed by playing smart,” he said. The Sagehens avoided turning over the ball on their offensive possessions for most of the game, eliminating the speed factor and allowing the Hens to prepare for the Gauchos on their defensive end.
The tone of the game was set early, with both teams battling to reach a 3-3 tie by the end of the first quarter. “I think it’s fair to say we caught them at a down moment,” Pokorny said. “We were able to put some shots away early and get some of the momentum in the first quarter,” he said. “It [being tied 3-3] basically was like a win for us.” In a tight second quarter, the Gauchos outscored the Sagehens 2-1, giving them a slim 5-4 lead going into the half.
A key moment in the third quarter came when the Gauchos had a six-on-five near the Sagehen goal with a chance to go up by two points, but were denied in a clutch steal by Cox, who scored on the subsequent breakaway. “We were about to fade, and scoring that goal and stopping them from scoring a six-on-five was good,” Rodriguez said.
Outscoring the Sagehens 3-2 in the third, the Gauchos added another point onto their lead before the Sagehens stormed back to tie the score 8-8 with 1:52 to go in the fourth.
“It was basically like the game up to this [the fourth quarter] point had meant nothing, and we had one quarter to pull off this upset,” Pokorny said. Although the Sagehens continued to play with the same fervor as they had throughout the entire game, they failed to convert on their six-on-five opportunities that they successfully had earlier on. “They played their best quarter in the fourth, and because of that we had our worst quarter.”
Although the Sagehens flirted with victory, Gaucho sophomore Teddy Zhang quickly denied them of any chance a mere nine seconds after the Sagehens drew even, finding the net with 1:43 left to effectively seal the 9-8 contest.
The Sagehens compete as the only Division-III team in the SoCal Tournament tomorrow, where they start off with an 8 a.m. game against No. 1 USC.
“We’ve gotten to the point where our base is laid, and now we can start preparing for the individual teams that we’re facing,” Pokorny said. The Sagehens have never won a game in the tournament before, but are hoping to potentially knock off a low-ranked opponent (such as Princeton, Pokorny said) in one of the later games.