The Pomona-Pitzer men’s water polo team fought through familiar foes, fourth-quarter ties, and their biggest rival at the La Verne Aquatics Center this past weekend—and they emerged triumphant, owners of the SCIAC title. The Sagehens defeated Whittier, Redlands, and first-seeded CMS to claim their first SCIAC championship since 2008. With the victories, they finish the season at 13-18 overall, with a 9-1 league record.
The biggest game of the weekend was the title matchup on Sunday, which pitted the second-seeded Sagehens against their cross-street rivals, CMS. In the incredibly defensive matchup, the Sagehens prevailed 7-4 behind the work of multiple defenders and the goalkeeping skills of captain Kyle Pokorny PO ’12, who was named the SCIAC Player of the Week. The Stags had previously beaten the Hens 10-8 when the two teams met earlier in the season.
In the first quarter, the Stags jumped to an early 2-0 lead with goals from John Holland CM ’14 and 2010 SCIAC and Association of Collegiate Water Polo Coaches (ACWPC) Player of the Year Brian Chong CM ’12, but the Hens quickly tied it up with goals from leading scorer Jason Cox PZ ’13 and Jaron Moler PO ’12. Jarrod Gaut PZ ’14 then slotted a goal in with 12 seconds left in the quarter to give the Hens a 3-2 lead, which they extended to 4-2 by the half.
Both teams remained defensively strong in the third quarter, with no players scoring until Holland narrowed the Stags’ deficit with 4:49 left. Chong once again completed the 1-2 punch, converting an opportunity with 2:51 to play to bring the score to 4-4.
With the score tied, the pressure only intensified in the fourth quarter, as each team looked to secure the go-ahead goal. Moler struck first, skipping a shot in with 5:43 left to give the Hens a 5-4 lead.
“We were in a man-up situation and it was late in the shot clock, and Jason Cox was attacking middle and drew the defenders,” Moler said about the game-winning shot. “I knew he was going to get me the ball. I just had to put the shot on goal. After it went in, there was still plenty of time for CMS to come back, and as good a team as they are, I knew it would be important for our defense to come up big.”
The Sagehen defense responded, impeding the subsequent Stag attacks. The Sagehens tacked on two more goals in the final minute to seal the victory. Among the offensive tactics employed by the Stags were two lob shots, reminiscent of the two lobs that got past Pokorny in the teams’ previous matchup. This time, he blocked them, two out of his 14 total saves that day.
On Saturday, the Hens faced off in a close semifinal match against third-seeded Redlands, whom they had narrowly defeated 11-10 less than two weeks before. This time, the Hens got out to an early lead and rode five goals from Cox to victory, fighting off a late Bulldog surge to win 11-9.
The Hens also handily defeated Whitter in their first round match, turning a 6-3 halftime lead into an 11-4 blowout by the end of the third quarter. The Poets staged a small late-game comeback with three goals in the fourth quarter, but the Hens were able to match their offensive output and end with a 14-7 victory.
After a successful weekend, the Sagehens move on to the Western Water Polo Association (WWPA) Championships.
“More than anything we need to make sure we stay focused. It’s great that we won SCIACs, but now we need to defend our title and try to achieve our other goal of coming in the top four in WWPA,” Moler wrote in an e-mail. “I think we have the potential to defeat Division-I teams, but then again we may have rematches against CMS and Redlands. We’ve had a great season so far so I hope we can end strong and have some success.”
Best of luck to the Sagehens as they move on to the WWPA Championship at UC San Diego, where they open with a game against La Verne next Thursday afternoon.