In the relatively small world of water polo fandom, everyone knows about the historically epic matchups of University of California, Los Angeles versus University of Southern California, and University of California, Berkeley versus Stanford University.
This week, however, an equally fiery but lesser-publicized rivalry game took place: P-P (19-8, 7-0 SCIAC) versus Claremont-Mudd-Scripps (13-15, 5-2 SCIAC). The intrigue of this matchup stems from the fact that the teams train mere tens of yards from each other, and at one point were one and the same team.
The teams split prior to the 1956/57 season, but according to former CMS player and head coach Mike Sutton CM '76, there wasn’t much of a rivalry due to CMS dominance until the late 1980s, with Pomona-Pitzer having their best season in 1988 under coach Gary Troyer.
P-P then went through a succession of less-than-successful years of coaching before hiring current head coach Alex Rodriguez, who “not only made P-P better, but made the whole conference better,” according to Sutton. On the CMS side, Sutton notes that that team also went through a slump in recruiting and coaching before the tenure of its current head coach, Greg Lonzo.
“The level of play in the SCIAC is so good now, after dipping in the 90s, it’s actually really exciting to see how it goes,” Sutton added. “The obvious intensity of the rivalry between Pomona and Claremont has to do with the fact that they’re basically the same high-achieving academic kids who want to play this game that doesn’t get a ton of love outside of the Olympics. So, to have a game where the stands are packed – that’s special.”
This game was truly special. Under the lights at Axelrood Pool on Wednesday, Nov. 9, P-P took the lead quickly, scoring the first four goals of the match. Led by Ellison Taylor CM '17, the Stags were able eventually to tighten the score to 7-4 at the half. The Stags went on to score the first two goals of the second half, but were unable to keep it up for the fourth period, when they were outscored 4-1. The Sagehens grabbed the win and the SCIAC title with the final score of 13-8.
The Sagehens benefitted from great performances from James Baker PO '17, Adam Ward PO '19, and Mark Hallman PO '18, who scored three goals apiece.
Before the game, Baker told TSL via email that while it would undoubtedly an exciting game. In terms of training and preparation, it was business as usual for the Sagehens. “We are going to treat [CMS] like any team we have played and focus on fine-tuning our defense and offense in the next few days.”
Also of note was a stellar performance from Sagehen goalie Daniel Diemer PZ ’18, who tallied four steals and five saves, including an often-elusive five-meter penalty shot block.
Coach Rodriguez certainly has come back strong following his year on sabbatical, leading the Sagehens to their first win over the Stags since 2012.
The Stags will face the California Institute of Technology Beavers on Nov. 12 at 11:00 a.m. in their last conference matchup. On the same day, the Sagehens will travel to Chapman University to face the Panthers for a chance to go undefeated in SCIAC.