Last Sunday, the Pomona-Pitzer women’s water polo team missed earning back-to-back SCIAC Championship titles with a heartbreaking one-point loss to Cal Lutheran. The top-seeded Regals, who lost in the SCIAC finals to the Sagehens last year, this time fought their way to an 8-7 win to dethrone the reigning champions. Despite losing the finals match, the Sagehens played some first-rate water polo, defeating La Verne and Occidental in the opener and semi-finals, respectively.
On Friday, P-P beat La Verne 12-8. Although the girls came out a little nervous, they dominated the game. This match provided some of the Sagehens’ younger players with valuable tournament experience.
Against Oxy, goalkeeper Dana Kingman PI ’11 anchored the defense with ten saves and six steals. Kingman’s performance over the weekend was outstanding: she again tallied ten saves in the final match against Cal Lu.
Leading the Sagehen offense were Karen Bonner PO ‘10, Nikki Ruesch PI ‘09, and Sarah Woods PO ’10, who contributed two goals each. Annie Oxborough-Yankus PI ‘12 scored once as well.
P-P controlled the game against Oxy. The Sagehens built a lead early on, and boasted a three-point lead during one stretch of the game. Oxy fought back, scoring a few goals, but the P-P offense lit up the opposition’s goal in the second half, winning the game 9-6.
The atmosphere was electric in anticipation of the championship match pitting the Sagehens against the Regals. Both teams were favorites to meet in the finals, and both had been in the same position last year. After a loss at Cal Lu (13-12) earlier this month, the Sagehens were looking for revenge. This time around, the match was on neutral grounds: CMS’s Axelrod pool. The game also had even greater significance for Janelle Gyorffy PO ‘09 and Ruesch who were playing their final SCIAC game with the Sagehens.
Ca Lu got off to a quick start, catching the Sagehens by surprise with a long range effort. The Sagehens were quick to retaliate with an equalizer from Woods.
Later in the game Woods added two to complete her hat trick. Ruesch matched her teammate’s performance, adding three of her own.
The Sagehens showed impressive ball movement, resulting in three more goals in the first quarter. Woods contributed two more goals in addition to her equalizer, including a bullet from the far right side of the goal. Naneh Apkarian PO ’10 added one more to P-P’s tally late in the period.
The Sagehen defense held Cal Lu to only one more point, resulting in a first quarter score of 4-2.
The Sagehens built on its lead in the second quarter, with Ruesch grabbing an early point from a penalty. Cal Lu, however, was also awarded a penalty shortly after and cancelled out P-P’s point. Halfway through the second period the Regals scored once more and brought the deficit within one.
Ruesch brought the Sagehens back on top with two more goals in the bottom of the second period. The Sagehen defense stifled Cal Lu’s attempts at equalizing. The Sagehens led 7-4 by the end of the first half.
Quarter three consisted of only one goal, coming from Cal Lu. Both sides played aggressive defense, resulting in multiple players being excluded. The score stood at 7-5 going into the final period of regulation time.
Early into the quarter, Cal Lu reduced the deficit to one with a shot that deflected off of a Sagehen and went in.
The P-P defense responded to this well, loading more pressure onto the Cal Lu offense and suffocating several threatening plays.
With neither team finding a break, the Regals called a time-out halfway through the period for a change of strategy. When the game resumed, Ca Lu focused on feeding the ball to their interior offense. This was effective, and the Regals quickly equalized 7-7 with less than four minutes to play.
At several points the Sagehens came painfully close to regaining their lead, but their shots bounced off the post.
With two minutes left in the quarter, Cal Lu found a weak spot in the Sagehen defense and lobbed the ball inside for an easy goal. The Sagehens pressed hard for a comeback in the last seconds of the game, but were not able to equalize. The game ended Cal Lu 8, P-P 7.
“We did a nice job on defense, but we had a couple bad breaks,” commented head coach Alex Rodriguez. “The girls showed a lot of heart. It was disappointing.”
The Sagehens will be competing in the D-III nationals next weekend at Cal Lu. It will be Ruesch and Gyorffy’s final games with the P-P water polo program.
“Nikki Ruesch and Janelle Gyorffy have been fantastic captains and leaders, by example as well as raw talent,” reflected Rodriguez. “Next weekend will be a big push to send them out the right way. The team might not have won the championship but they are still champions.”