The Pomona-Pitzer men’s water polo team faced off against some of the strongest teams in the nation the past two weekends, playing five of the top ten ranked teams in the country. The Sagehens are still looking for their first win of the season after going 0-6 against the elite competition.
“We always start the season off with a tough couple of games to set the tone for a high level of play, and this past weekend was no exception,” Ryan Higgins PO ’14 said.
Over the past few seasons, the Hens have played many of the top-ranked teams in Division I to start the season. Facing such fierce competition gives P-P the opportunity to see where it stands, but more importantly allows the Sagehens to improve and grow as a team before entering SCIAC play in mid-October.
The Hens opened up their season against University of California, Los Angeles, the No. 2-ranked team in the country, losing 17-4. A few hours later, they fell 17-7 to the sixth-ranked University of California, Santa Barbara. Clayton Hardmann PO ’15 led the team with two goals in that game.
This past weekend P-P hosted the Inland Empire Invitational at Haldeman Pool. For their first game on Saturday, the Sagehens challenged the Tritons of University of California, San Diego, barely losing 9-5 for their best overall team performance of the weekend. The second half of the doubleheader for the Hens pitted them against the top-ranked team in all of Division I, the University of Southern California Trojans. While P-P lost 24-6, the attacker James Baker PO ’17 proved his mettle. Playing in only his fourth collegiate match, Baker came out ready to play and scored four of P-P’s six goals against USC.
Baker followed up his strong performance against USC with another impressive outing in the Hens’ Sunday matchup against 18th-ranked Redlands University. Baker led the team with three goals, but P-P still came up a little short, 15-10, after a late surge by the Bulldogs put the game away for good. The Sagehens concluded the difficult opening stretch with a tough loss to No. 9 University of California, Irvine by a score of 25-7.
While this past weekend was a disappointment in terms of wins and losses, the team remains optimistic and looks at these tough games as building blocks toward its ultimate goal of winning a SCIAC title.
“Although we lost all four games, we are experiencing a major change in team dynamics after losing a solid core of three starters and All-SCIAC players last year; we will have this sorted out by the beginning of SCIAC play,” Higgins said after the tournament. “Most importantly, I think the games showed that although we still need to mesh as a team, we have a very deep and diversely talented team this year, with everyone from seniors to freshmen putting up goals against top-tier opponents.”
The big question mark this year will be whether the Hens can fill the hole left by the 2012 Division III player of the year, Jason Cox PZ ’13. The team does have four of its top five scorers from last season’s SCIAC-winning squad returning along with a solid group of first-years, however, and the Hens seem poised to continue their offensive success. The offense will be led by Higgins, an All-SCIAC attacker who finished second on the team last year with 42 goals, as well as Jarrod Gaut PZ ’14, Phillip Clayman PO ’16, and Stephen Vint PZ ’15. The Hens also return a number of key utility players, such as Dylan O’Connell PO ’14, and will have a very experienced corps of players in goal, including Tyler Hill PO ’14 and Austin Strong PZ ’15. SCIAC play will be very hotly contested this year as both P-P and Redlands have excellent shots at winning the title, with defending co-champion Claremont-Mudd-Scripps likely to challenge for the top spot as well.
The Hens will return to the water this weekend and play two games on Saturday as part of the Lancer Invitational in Riverside, Calif. P-P will square off against the tournament host California Baptist University in the morning game and follow up against its SCIAC rival Occidental College at 5:45 p.m.