Feb. 1 marked the first game of the year for the Pomona-Pitzer women’s water polo team, as the team flexed its muscles and prepared for the season ahead at the California Baptist University Invite in Riverside. The Sagehens played two matches against nationally ranked opponents: California State University, Northridge and Concordia University Irvine. P-P had a respectable enough showing, prevailing in a tight contest against CUI after being blitzed by the power of Northridge in the opening game.
The CSU Matadors made their intent known early, and by the end of the first quarter the Sagehens were already in a 0-5 hole. That deficit was stretched out to 0-9 in the second quarter, but a strike from Alyssa Woodward PZ ’15 put P-P back on the board. Woodward later added another goal to her tally for the day, but it was a case of too little, too late, as Northridge prevailed by a margin of 18-5, with six players scoring at least twice. Although the manner of the defeat was disappointing, the Sagehens can take comfort in the fact that they were facing formidable opposition: The Matadors are currently ranked 15th in the country.
After such a humbling result, P-P was eager to grab a positive result in their second game of the day. The Sagehens were able to keep affairs much closer against the Concordia Eagles, and the teams traded blows for the opening three quarters, with P-P finding more solidity in defense and more effectiveness in attack than they did against Northridge. At the start of the fourth period, the score was a narrow 8-7 in Concordia’s favor, but Sallie Walecka PO ’15 and Chrissie Alving-Trinh PO ’15 scored back-to-back goals to put P-P back in the lead. The Eagles leveled the score, but Hope Grant PZ ’17 gave the Sagehens a 10-9 edge as the competitive game headed toward its dying minutes. Another equalizer gave Concordia hope, but Woodward found the net with just over two minutes to go, and P-P was able to kill the game in the time remaining to secure a nervy, but positive, 11-10 win. Overall, P-P ended its first official day of the season with a 1-1 record, a decent springboard as the Sagehens prepare for the Whittier Invitational on Saturday, Feb. 8.
Alving-Trinh, one of the team’s top performers last season, identified early season games against tough teams as a good preparation exercise.
“These early season games help us learn to work together as a team,” she said. “The experience against high-level teams early in the season helps us prepare for conferences games and ultimately the SCIAC championship at the end of the year.”
This year’s team certainly will certainly expect to do well; the last several years, overseen by head coach Alex Rodriguez, have been some of the most successful in the program’s history. Last year’s SCIAC title, secured after a 10-7 victory over University of Redlands, was the Sagehens’ second in a row, and capped off a season where the team went 18-16, with an impressive 9-2 record in the SCIAC. That triumph secured P-P a spot in the NCAA Nationals, their third appearance in four seasons after appearances in 2010 and 2012. Last year’s NCAA run also saw the Sagehens grab their third-ever win at the NCAA Championship tournament when they beat Iona College in a 13-12 thriller to secure a respectable seventh place finish.
In short, a winning tradition has been instilled for P-P over the past few seasons, and it is almost a given that they will be among the top contenders in the SCIAC this year, if not outright favorites. Goalkeeper Sarah Tuggy PO ’13, who was named the Association of Collegiate Water Polo Coaches’ (ACWPC) Division III Women’s Water Polo Player of the Year before graduating, is a notable loss for the team, but more than enough experienced talent remains.
Woodward and Sarah Westcott PO ’15 made the ACWPC first team, and Mahalia Prater-Fahey PO ’15 was an honorable mention. All of these players will likely not only be significant statistical contributors, but, given that the 15-woman squad has only one senior, they will also be depended on as calmer heads for the team’s incoming first-years.
Alving-Trinh, a junior, acknowledged some of the expectations, saying, “Since 7 out of our 14 players are juniors, we have an advantage over other teams because this is our third season playing with the same teammates, meaning we know what their strengths and weaknesses are and have been working together for the past two seasons.”
Of course, one of P-P’s deadliest assets isn’t even a player: Coach Rodriguez is a two-time recipient of the ACWPC Division III Coach of the Year award and, after five SCIAC titles in eight seasons in charge, seems to have figured out a formula for conference success. Still, there are never any guarantees in sport, and the road back to yet another NCAA appearance remains a long one for the Sagehens, who will focus on building some wins as they take on California State University, San Bernardino, and Redlands at the Whittier Invitational on Saturday, Feb. 8.