The Pomona-Pitzer women’s water polo team (20-10, 14-0 SCIAC) celebrated senior day in a big way April 20 at Haldeman Pool, demolishing Chapman University (10-17, 6-8 SCIAC) 16-2 to cap off an undefeated season against SCIAC opponents.
Before the game started, the Sagehens honored the two seniors on the team, Morgan McCracken PO ’18 and Jocelyn Castro PZ ’18. The duo has overseen an extremely successful four-year period for P-P, and delivered the Sagehens’ first SCIAC championship in four years last season.
“The keys to our team’s success have been, and always will be, teamwork and selflessness, McCracken said. “Playing for something greater than yourself motivates you to work even harder for your teammate next to you.”
Sagehens head coach Alexander Rodriguez had high praise for the pair.
“Jocelyn and Morgan are the leaders of the team,” Rodriguez said. “Jocelyn is the top center in conference and Morgan is one of the top shooters and assist players.”
Entering the day, the Panthers still had an outside shot at making the SCIAC tournament, but needed a win as well as losses elsewhere around the conference to keep their season alive. The Sagehens wasted no time in crushing their postseason dreams.
The festivities seemed to energize the seniors early on, as Castro scored 24 seconds into the game and McCracken added a goal of her own just four minutes later to give the Sagehens an early 2-0 lead.
P-P refused to step off the gas, putting up another two goals before the end of the first. Castro opened up the second quarter as she had the first, this time needing only 18 seconds to sneak her second score of the day past the Panthers’ goalie.
After assisting on Castro’s goal, Kahea Kahaulelio PO ’19 got in on the action, scoring on a dish from McCracken for what would be her first of five goals on the day.
“Senior day has always been an exciting and motivating day for the team,” Kahaulelio said. “We played for our two seniors … knowing these girls have worked very hard the past four years.”
At halftime, P-P held a commanding 9-0 lead, and while the offense was putting up points in a hurry, the Sagehens’ smothering defense deserved much of the credit. Morgan Stockham PZ ’19 spent the first quarter in goal and shut out the Panthers before Haley Crabtree PZ ’21 came in for the remainder of the game.
Stockham had two steals in the first, and Crabtree made eight saves in her three quarters of work while only giving up two goals. Despite only scoring twice, Chapman still took 19 shots, not far off of P-P’s 28. The drastic difference in shooting percentage (11 percent vs 57 percent) was demonstrative of the Sagehens’ defensive prowess and accuracy when shooting.
All season the Sagehens have been sensational on both ends of the pool, setting the pace in the SCIAC for both points allowed and scored. Their 52 goals allowed sits well below California Lutheran University’s (20-8, 12-2 SCIAC) mark of 66, and the Sagehens’ whopping 223 goals scored leaves the rest of the conference in the dust, with CalLu’s 143 a distant second.
In the second half, the Sagehens continued to pour it on, scoring seven more goals while holding the Panthers to two. Kahaulelio had four of P-P’s goals in the half, including three straight to open up the third.
“My team allowed every open opportunity on offense for me to score,” Kahaulelio said. “I played smart with a positive mindset of finishing my shots on cage.”
With the win, the Sagehens clinched the No. 1 seed entering the conference tournament, something they haven’t done since 2014. P-P finished second in the conference behind Whittier (9-16, 7-7 SCIAC) for three consecutive seasons, but after beating Whittier College in the SCIAC championship last season, it seems the Sagehens have gotten over the hump.
“This year we have beaten every SCIAC team by five or more goals,” Rodriguez said. “The consistency of our team has allowed us to be more dominant in the conference.”
Kahaulelio believes the team’s SCIAC domination has been also result of its work ethic.
“[P-P] women’s water polo is a team of hard-working women who are dedicated to waking up for morning practice at 6 a.m., wearing heavy-ass weight belts in the water, and working harder each day,” Kahaulelio said.
P-P will take on Whittier at home April 27 in the SCIAC semi-finals. Despite the heightened stakes, Rodriguez said the team’s preparation hasn’t changed.
“The way we watch video, prepare a game plan and practice is the same for any game throughout our season,” Rodriguez said. “Whether it be the lowest seed or the highest [Division I] opponent, we prepare the same.”
With a win, the Sagehens would move on to play the winner of CalLu vs. Claremont-Mudd-Scripps (18-9, 11-3 SCIAC) in the SCIAC championship.
Regardless of this year’s ending, the Sagehen seniors will look back on their time in the pool fondly.
“Being a member of the P-P water polo team has been a huge part of my Pomona College experience that I will cherish forever,” McCracken said.