Coming off their first SCIAC Championship since 2008, the Pomona-Pitzer men’s water polo team concluded its season at the Western Water Polo Association (WWPA) Championships, held two weeks ago at UC San Diego. Facing off against familiar foes from around the West Region, the sixth-seeded Sagehens emerged from the tournament in seventh place.
The Hens were able to knock off a pesky La Verne team 13-12 in the round of sixteen before falling at the hands of third-seeded (and nationally 14th-ranked) Santa Clara 10-6 in the quarterfinals. The team then suffered a close 11-9 overtime loss to CMS in the consolation semifinals before taking a decisive 11-8 win over Redlands. With the even split of matches, the team finishes its season with a 15-20 record, going 9-1 in SCIAC.
“Overall I thought it went well,” head coach Alex Rodriguez said. “It’s a challenge sometimes to have an emotion like the week before, and then to get right back into another tournament.”
In the opening match against La Verne, the Hens took an early 3-1 lead, backed by two goals form Mark Hudnall PO ’13 and one from Jaron Moler PO ’12. The team continued to hold a seemingly safe lead through most of the game, going up 13-8 with 4:47 left in the fourth on Stephen Vint’s PZ ’15 third goal of the game. Vint was named SCIAC Freshman of the Year this past Tuesday.
However, the five-goal lead began to look unsafe for the Hens late in the game, as three Leopards scored in the span of less than a minute, leaving the score at a dangerous 13-11 with about a minute to go.
“We struggled at the end,” Rodriguez said.
The Leopards scored again with 34 seconds left to cut the Sagehens’ lead, but the team was able to stop the bleeding and hold on for the victory.
The Friday quarterfinal against the Santa Clara Broncos was a tight match as well, an improvement for the Hens against a team they had lost to 14-5 earlier this season. P-P quickly fell into a 3-0 hole with Santa Clara scoring all three goals in the first two minutes and proceeding to shut the Hens out for the entirety of the first quarter. But in the second quarter, the team rallied behind goals from Vint and Jason Cox PZ ’13 to pull the score to 3-2. Bronco Kyle Surber then scored a goal with one second left in the second quarter to give Santa Clara a 4-2 lead at the half.
The Hens continued to keep the score close through the third, scoring three goals in a row before giving up two to the Broncos. However, Santa Clara was able to pull away in the fourth, outscoring the Hens 4-1 and taking the victory.
On Saturday, the Sagehens faced off against their next-door rivals, the CMS Stags, in the third game of what has been a series of incredibly heated matches this year. The Stags took an early 2-1 lead in the first quarter, but no team ever really gained the upper hand, as each subsequent period ended in tied scores of 5-5, 7-7, and 9-9 respectively. The Hens fought hard throughout the game, only gaining two 6-on-5 opportunities compared to CMS’s ten. Eventually though, the Stags overcame the Hens in overtime, taking the game 11-9.
“We had some unlucky bounces,” Rodriguez said. “Any time we play each other it’ll be as a close game.”
In their final game of the tournament, the Sagehens played Redlands in the seventh-place match. The game remained tight through the first half, with both teams trading goals. Although the Bulldogs held a 6-5 lead at the half, the Hens went on a 6-0 second half run, capping an 11-8 victory.
“Coming out of last year, when we [were] really young and had two dominant players, the coaches knew that it was going to be a transition from two guys who were going to score a lot for you to a more balanced team,” Rodriguez said. With all the players on the team at a more even level of play, they could rely just as much on bench players as starters, he said. “I definitely feel like we were the deepest team in SCIAC.”
Rodriguez also cited the strength of the team’s middle players as key to their success, citing the play of Jarrod Gaut PZ ’14, who had been fighting a shoulder injury throughout the entire season. Gaut was unavailable to play during the WWPA Championships.
“He could’ve had an even bigger impact,” Rodriguez said.
Looking ahead to next season, Rodriguez is cautiously optimistic. The team will return almost every player, but it will lose the talents of captains Kyle Pokorny PO ’12 and Jaron Moler PO ’12.
“Ideally you would think that we’d be stronger, but I’m also concerned about being complacent, and not being hungry,” he said. “I’m hoping that we’ll come back and have that same hunger. The conference is strong, and it’s getting stronger every day.”