This weekend, with a 14-11 victory over the University of La Verne Leopards and a 6-3 win over the University of Redlands Bulldogs, the top-ranked Pomona-Pitzer women’s water polo team extended their winning streak against last year’s SCIAC opponents to 15. Following the two losses against University of California, Santa Barbara and California State University, Northridge at the end of January, the Sagehens open the 2013 season with a 2-2 record.
Despite the lack of relievers off the bench due to four players out for swimming taper and another temporarily out due to injury, the Sagehens thrived in the second match of the day’s doubleheader. The Bulldogs were the last SCIAC team that the Sagehens faced last year, when the Hens came out on top 12-11 in sudden-death overtime to earn the SCIAC Championship and an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament.
Redlands came looking for revenge, but P-P kept them at bay. The Hens landed the first goal of the match from a five-meter penalty shot scored by Alyssa Woodward PZ ’15. The first three quarters were a defensive battle, as the Sagehens led the Bulldogs for the duration of the match but never by more than two points until the fourth quarter.
One important momentum-turner for the Sagehens came from a one-on-nobody counterattack goal from Sarah Westcott PO ’15 late in the third quarter to give the Hens a 4-2 lead going into the fourth. In a beautiful display of teamwork, utility Sallie Walecka PO ’15 faked out the Redlands goalie to get her off balance and draw out the defense, opening up the goal for set Mahalia Prater-Fahey PO ’15 to score the same quick backhand shot that secured last year’s SCIAC Championship in sudden death. Redlands scored one goal in the fourth to make the score 5-3, but Woodward scored one last time from the perimeter, and the defense won out in the final minutes of the fourth quarter.
The Hens struggled early in the first match of the day against La Verne, giving up two goals early in the first quarter to start the game with an 0-2 deficit. Prater-Fahey’s deadly backhands and Woodward’s goal off a 6-5 play allowed the Sagehens to recover, but from that point onward, the Sagehens and Leopards faced off in an offensive battle.
The Leopards went up again 5-3, but Westcott scored back-to-back goals to tie the score at 5. In the third quarter, Kerstin Henshall PZ ’14 snuck a goal in just past the near-side goal post to finally give the Hens a 9-8 lead that would extend through the fourth. The Hens scored twice in a row, followed by two from La Verne that narrowed the Hens’ lead to 11-10. Finally the Sagehens went on a 3-0 scoring run led by unstoppable set shots from Prater-Fahey to secure the victory in the fourth.
In the past, Head Coach Alex Rodriguez set the Sagehens up against a stretch of ranked Division I opponents to start the season with a record along the lines of 0-10. However, facing SCIAC opponents this early in the season this year allows the Hens to get a feel for SCIAC competition and helps them find areas to grow and improve before official conference games begin at the end of March.
“We play Division I teams for the experience of playing good teams and learning from those experiences,” Rodriguez said. “Because we are such a small sport, we get girls that probably could play Division I.”
In their next tournament on March 1 and 2, the Sagehens will face California Lutheran University and Occidental College, both fellow SCIAC opponents they will see again in their first two official conference matches.
Following the end of the swimming season and the return of four of their players, the Sagehens will be back in action in two weeks at the Posada Royale Invitational hosted by California Lutheran, March 1 and 2. Their first four home games will be the following weekend, March 8 and 9, as the Hens host the annual Claremont Convergence tournament.