Offensive Struggles Hold Back Sagehens

The Pomona-Pitzer women’s water polo team had a mixed week, losing one and winning one in of a pair of tight
in-conference encounters.

P-P entered last weekend’s game against Occidental College fresh off a relatively comfortable 8-5 win against California Lutheran University, a result that
took the Sagehens (16-13, 3-1 SCIAC) to a 2-0 record in the SCIAC.

As a team looking to secure its third straight conference title, P-P likely felt fairly confident in putting in another winning performance when they
hosted the Occidental Tigers on Saturday, March 29. The visitors had won only two games all
season ahead of the clash, but P-P was unable to create separation early and were handed their first conference defeat by the Tigers. Christina Williamson PO ’17 said that although they defeated Cal Lutheran, the Sagehens had offensive trouble during that matchup that also caused problems throughout the Occidental game.

“[We were struggling] to create movement on offense—whether out of transition or just in half-court—which makes it difficult to
execute,” she said.

Similar issues seemed to plague the
Sagehens against Occidental, as P-P went into the half with a narrow 3-2 lead. An
early goal in the third quarter for the Sagehens threatened to break the game open,
but Occidental rallied to tie the game. Second-leading scorer Sarah Westcott
PO ’15 restored the home team’s lead with only a few minutes left in the third
quarter, an advantage that held until late in the fourth.

That was when Koral
Gill, who led Occidental with three goals and three steals on the day, once
again brought affairs to level terms with a little over two minutes left to set
up a tense finale. With just around half a minute left, Vicky Gyorffy PO ’15
came up with a vital steal to give P-P a chance to notch the decisive score.
After calling a timeout, the Sagehens were able to get the ball to Gyorffy in a
relatively open position, but Occidental keeper Sofie Munoz repelled the
junior’s effort. Munoz was key to the visitors on the day, totaling 15 saves
to frustrate a usually strong P-P offense.

The Sagehens themselves have been
forced to scramble for reinforcements on the goalkeeping front after Ahsha Earwood PZ ’17 dislocated her shoulder in a March 19 game against Harvard University. For the last eight games, P-P has been forced to start utility player Sallie Walecka PO ’15 in goal instead, a development that head coach Alex Rodriguez bemoaned.

“Taking Sallie away has hurt us in the
field, to the point where we’re almost missing two players,” he said.

Walecka certainly
held her own against Occidental, notching nine saves throughout the encounter.
Unfortunately for the Sagehens, that still was not enough.

After Gyorffy’s late miss, Occidental’s Morgan McClafferty stormed back down the pool, forced a save from Walecka, grabbed the rebound, and
scored into an empty net to give the Tigers the win with only a second left on the

With the disappointing end to the game, Rodriguez was left to dwell
on some of his team’s offensive inefficiencies.

“This season we’ve
played a lot of close games we could have taken care of earlier, and hopefully
this is a lesson to take care of business before the last play,” he said. “I thought we
had a lot of opportunities and control, but water polo especially is about
finishing your opportunities. Occidental scored when it counted.”

After suffering the first loss of
their SCIAC schedule, P-P went into their game against University of Redlands on Wednesday, April 2 knowing a
win was vital to keeping team spirits up. The Sagehens have played Redlands in
the last two SCIAC Championship games and faced the Bulldogs twice
previously this season in non-conference tournaments. P-P won both those
encounters, but did so in tight fashion, prevailing 8-7 on Feb. 8 in the
Whittier Invitational and 9-8 in the Lancer Invite a week later.  

“Redlands and us have played in the last two
conference championship games so I think we know each other pretty well, so I’m
expecting a good game and battle,”  Rodriguez said before the match.

P-P was in control for much of the
early part of the match, with Alyssa Woodward PZ ’14 and Westcott once again
striking up a good scoring partnership with four goals between them to hand the
Sagehens a 7-3 lead midway through the second half. Of course, Redlands was
not likely to go down without a fight, and the Bulldogs scored three unanswered
goals to make P-P uncomfortable. The Sagehens were eventually able to hold on
for the 7-6 result, their third one-goal win against Redlands this season.

The positive
result puts P-P back on track to end their regular season on a strong note,
with the team dynamic proving vital in their attempts to
find a consistent balance in all areas of the game.

“One of the things we have been
talking about is how to really play team offense and team
defense,” Williamson said. “Our team has a lot of really talented players, but we know that
to be successful is going to take more than individual skills.”

The Sagehens can next be seen in action on Wednesday, April 9 at 7 p.m. at Whittier College.

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