Just three days after cracking the National Top 20, the Pomona-Pitzer men’s water polo team endured a grueling, winless weekend at the SoCal Tournament in Long Beach, falling to No. 1 USC, No. 9 UC Davis, No. 13 Long Beach State, and No. 15 Santa Clara. They dropped to a 1-12 record for the season.
The Sagehens struggled with slow starts in all four matches, failing to hold a lead at the midway point in any of the games. In an opening 21-1 loss against national champion team USC, currently riding a 21-game winning streak, the P-P team was shut out through the first 26 minutes, until Jarrod Gaut PZ ’14 was able to score the only Sagehen goal of the match. “They [the players] were nervous about playing the number one team in the country,” Coach Alex Rodriguez said. “Their players were quicker and more athletic than any opponents we’ve played.”
The most notable match of the weekend came later that day against ninth-ranked UC Davis. Bouncing back from the USC blowout, the Sagehens came charging out of the gate and were able to match up against the brawny athleticism of Davis’ Division I players. “I was pleased at how we bounced back,” goalkeeper and captain Kyle Pokorny PO ’12 said. “We gave Davis a good game all the way through.”
With Sagehen players matching the Aggies physically, the game remained close throughout. The Aggies turned a 2-1 first-quarter lead into a seemingly ominous 5-2 advantage midway into the second, but the Sagehens stormed back with a 4-0 run in the third and fourth quarters to go up 7-6 with six minutes remaining.
“Even though we were down 2-1 [in the first]… we were losing but we were pumped up,” Captain Cody Moore PO ’13 said. “We knew we could stick with them.”
Aggie Aaron Salit pulled the game to a 7-7 tie with an extra-man goal, but Sagehen Jason Cox PO ’13 came back with his third goal of the game with 3:46 to go.
The Sagehens managed to hold their lead until the clock showed less than two minutes to play. However, they weren’t able to seal the victory, giving up a tying goal to Aggie Ryan Hagens with 1:47 to go. After the Sagehens failed to convert two consecutive drives into goals, the Aggies scored again with only 20 seconds left on the clock, putting them up 9-8. Although the Sagehens had a chance to tie in the final seconds, Stephen Vint PZ ’15 was called on an infraction, effectively ending the game.
“We were in better shape than we were the first time,” Rodriguez said, in reference to the Sagehens’ 10-3 loss to Davis earlier this season. The Sagehens played well on both sides of the ball. They were able to double-team Davis’ strong set players through much of the match, forcing the Aggies either to use their weaker outside shooters or to pass the ball into the thick of the thorny Sagehen defense. Rodriguez also said that the Sagehens executed better offensive plays, controlling the counterattack and converting on more 6-5 opportunities.
On Sunday, the Sagehens faced off against 13th-ranked Long Beach and 15th-ranked Santa Clara, two tougher teams than they had hoped for. P-P came out slowly in a very physical game against a fired-up Long Beach, who had been upset by Princeton on Saturday. The Sagehens fell into a 6-1 hole in the first quarter, losing 13-7.
“If we don’t have a big first quarter, then we end up getting hurt,” Moore said. “Energy level is a big thing.”
The Sagehens’ lack of year-round training and a deep roster—they have 19 players, while USC has around 60—also hurt them on Sunday, as they fell in the final match to Santa Clara 14-5. “We were disappointed we didn’t give Santa Clara a better game,” Rodriguez said.
Although the Sagehens weren’t able to accomplish their biggest goal of the weekend, which was to get a win, Rodriguez views the tournament as a “learning experience.”
“We didn’t achieve what we wanted to achieve, but I think we walked away as a better team and proved that we can play with teams like Long Beach and Davis,” he said. The Sagehens will co-host and play in the 19-team Claremont Convergence tournament this weekend, where they look to continue improving.
“Every week we play, there’s four new things added to our game,” Moore said.
The team starts off with a 12:40 p.m. match today against Chapman in the Haldeman Pool.