P-P Women’s Water Polo Wins Third Straight SCIAC Title

The Pomona-Pitzer women’s water polo team wrapped up its
third straight conference title with a win over Claremont-Mudd-Scripps this past weekend in the
SCIAC rournament at Whittier College. The Sagehens (23-13, 10-1 SCIAC), who clinched the banner after defeating the Athenas in the final, will advance
to a play-in game against Division II powerhouse University of California, San Diego for the chance
to grab a berth in the eight-team NCAA tournament. P-P headed into Whittier
riding a five-game winning streak, culminating with an April 19 win against CMS that brought an end to the Athenas’ undefeated conference
record. As a result, the Sagehens held the No. 1 seed and kicked off their
postseason with a game on Friday, April 25 against the No. 8 seed, the University of La
Verne—a team that was fresh off a virtual play-in win over the No. 9 seed, the California Institute of Technology.   

P-P made the gap in talent obvious
form the start, with Alyssa Woodward PZ ’15 scoring two
first-quarter goals. The side’s leading scorer notched another double in the
second quarter, with Hope Grant PZ ’17 and Mahalia Prater-Fahey PO ’15 also
chipping in as the Sagehens went into the half with a 6-2 cushion. Advancement
to the next round seemed almost certain at that point, and P-P
ensured there was no chance of a La Verne comeback with another businesslike
second half. Christina Williamson PO ’17, Chessa Burke PZ ’17, and Brenda
Iglesias PO ’14 all added their name to the list of scorers, and Prater-Fahey and
Woodward added one more each to their own totals. Despite an 11-6 final score, head coach Alexander Rodriguez said that it was far from a
perfect performance.

“We actually came out with some nerves,” Rodriguez
said. “The La Verne game was definitely closer than I would have liked, but it
did give us the chance to get our feet wet and get going emotionally.”

Emotions were certainly running
high ahead of P-P’s next game, a semifinal matchup against the University of Redlands. The
Bulldogs were the Sagehens’ opponents in the last two SCIAC finals, and the
teams’ three previous meetings this season had all gone to P-P by only
one goal. Another tight contest was seemingly in the cards, but P-P had different ideas. the Sagehens notched the first four goals of the game as
they threatened to run away with it, but a late push by Redlands
brought the margin back to 4-2 before a Prater-Fahey strike just before the
first half restored a three-goal lead.

Another Bulldogs score again brought Redlands
within two, but Woodward exerted a calming influence on the proceedings, scoring
back-to-back goals before the end of the third quarter to put P-P up by four.
The Bulldogs finally seemed out of comeback efforts, with Hope Grant and
her older sister Carter Grant PZ ’15 combining for three goals in the fourth quarter
to put the game out of reach. The Sagehens prevailed 10-4, finally finding a
way to beat the Bulldogs with a little more comfort, which coach Rodriguez
views as far from a coincidence. 

“We try to peak during the Championships,” he
said. “There are a lot of things I do that [make it harder in the beginning of
the year] but help us peak at the end.” 

Although a team offensive effort
characterized P-P’s game, much credit also went to Sallie Walecka PO ’15, who
turned in yet another assured performance as goalkeeper to neutralize the
Redlands threat.

That win took the Sagehens into the
final against a CMS team they had played just the week before. The match started slowly,
with both teams looking a little tight. P-P eventually found some offensive
fluency, but they came up against Athenas goalkeeper Allison Hu CM ’15, who was in
excellent form early, making seven saves in the first period. The only score of
the first quarter came for CMS on a breakaway after a Hu save, and P-P went
into the second quarter down 0-1.

The Sagehens eventually found an edge, and Williamson and Woodward scored before and after another CMS
goal to tie the score at two ahead of halftime. Candace Filippelli CM ’14 scored her second goal
of the game in the third quarter to give the Athenas the lead once more, and it
took a fine save from Walecka to stop Filippelli from reaching a
potentially game-breaking hat trick that would have taken the lead to 4-2.
Instead, Chrissie Alving-Trinh PO ’15 hit back to tie affairs at 3-3, the score heading into the fourth quarter. It was in the final period that the
Sagehens hit true championship form, with Prater-Fahey opening the floodgates as
she handed P-P the 4-3 lead early on. That was the signal for Alving-Trinh,
Williamson, and Woodward to join the party, as P-P ended up scoring the
last five goals of the game to ensure a 7-3 win and clinch SCIAC honors yet

The fourth
quarter rally was no coincidence, according to head coach Rodriguez.

“We train a
lot; we do a lot of morning practices, swimming, conditioning,” he said. “I attribute our
energy and effectiveness in the fourth quarter to the effort the girls have put
in this year to getting in shape.”

In years past, the conference title would
have been sufficient to send P-P to the NCAAs. However, a new format this
year means the Sagehens will have to play at UCSD for the right to compete on
the national stage. The Tritons, despite their DII status, are one of
the country’s more formidable programs, although the Sagehens believe that
an upset is not beyond them, as they gave UCSD a competitive game in the teams’
one meeting this season. While acknowledging the long odds, Rodriguez
said he has faith in his team. 

“My girls have a lot of heart,” Rodriguez said. “We’ve played them
close before in the year, so we’re going to go down there and give it our best

Whatever the result this upcoming Saturday, May 3, a third consecutive
conference title is no small feat, and it means that Rodriguez and company can
mark this season as another success for a program that is beginning to
distinguish itself as a burgeoning force.

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