Men’s Water Polo Upsets No. 11 Ranked Santa Clara in Comeback Win

As the great Homer Simpson once said, “It’s like David and Goliath, but this time, David won!” While the original context may have been a fight with the city over trash pick up, Homer could have just as easily been referring to men’s water polo’s 10-9 win over 11th-ranked Santa Clara.The poll accounts for all men’s water polo teams under NCAA jurisdiction, and a team that many thought was among the top two in the Western Water Polo Association (WWPA) fell hard on Saturday afternoon at the hands of a complete team effort by the Sagehens.“Definitely a very big win,” commented a surprisingly subdued coach Alex Rodriguez immediately following the victory. “I think they were somewhere in the top fifteen. We had a lot of guys step up and play well, and that’s what it takes to beat a team like that.”The Pomona-Pitzer offense benefitted once again from the leadership of Ryan Balikian PO ’11 and Ben Hadley PO ’11. Balikian, who was nominated for WWPA player of the week, scored four goals in the game, giving him a grand total of 15 in the weekend’s four-game round-robin tournament.The Sagehens jumped out to an early 1-0 lead on their first possession with a Balikian goal. After failing to score on a 6 on 5 power play, Santa Clara scored two unanswered goals. A P-P score tied the game at two at the end of the first quarter.But after a good start, the Sagehens fell into a lull and found themselves down 5-2 quickly. Another goal apiece made the score 6-3 at the half, and it looked like another promising start was doomed to end in a loss.However, Balikian stepped up with two straight long-range goals to close it to 6-5.“Those two goals by B-Lick were clutch,” said Dan Dadvany PO ’10. “Going from down three to down one put us right back in the game.”With two minutes remaining in the third quarter, Matthew “Tusk” Ward PI ’10 picked the most opportune moment to contribute his first goal of the season to tie the game.After a Santa Clara ejection, the Sagehens swam on goal with a two-on-one scenario. Ward controlled the ball, and Robbie Hayes PO ’10 recognized the situation. Swimming in front of the cage, Hayes moved himself and his man out to the left to clear a lane for Ward to walk the ball in and fire a Howlitzer into the back of the net to make it 7-6 in the defining moment of the game.Hadley put it succinctly, “Tusk analyzed and capitalized.”From that moment on, the Sagehens overcame questionable officiating and a desperate fourth quarter comeback attempt to seal what Hayes believes is “the biggest win in the history of the program.”A possible turning point came with the Hens up 9-7 at the beginning of the fourth quarter. The swarming P-P defense pestered Santa Clara all afternoon, but after it looked like David Lee PO ’10 and Andrew Ayres PO ’10 had secured another steal, the referee inexplicably called a defensive foul on Lee after he had come over for the double team and popped the ball in the air to Ayres. Boos rained down from the stands, but with renewed life, the Broncos scored and pulled within one with plenty of time left to complete the comeback. Unfortunately for them, they would pull no closer until the final score.After goalie Kyle Pokorny PO ’12 blocked his ninth shot of the contest, the defense shut down the Broncos’ final attempt to tie the game with 20 seconds left. The Sagehens just had to play keep away to secure an unprecedented upset.“Santa Clara has played with Southern Cal and Stanford this year, so that was big,” Kadvany said. “We played the whole game and refused to back down.” The increased energy and support for the P-P men’s water polo team could be felt all weekend as fans packed and rocked Haldeman pool for the previous evening’s match against Harvard.While not as big of a win (11-8 final) the game resonated with students who took advantage of the opportunity to chant “safety school” and root against an academic rival.Kadvany said he was “stoked on how many people were there. It created a really fun atmosphere.”With the SCIAC tournament at CMS, the team hopes the fan base has been hooked on polo and will help the team towards a third straight SCIAC title.In the two other matchups of the weekend, the Hens took care of business by defeating the Fordham Rams 14-9 to open the tournament and the Gannon Golden Nights 13-8 to close out.With six straight victories and four against east coast opponents, Kadvany joked that Haldeman pool is becoming known as the spot “where East Coast teams come to lose.”The team will travel away from the friendly confines of Haldeman, where they have a 6-0 record, and take their show on the road next weekend to Riverside for a pair of games against winnable opponents before opening up the SCIAC regular season on the road against Cal Tech the following weekend.While the upset over Santa Clara was a fantastic win, the team hopes that it will be just one part of a fantastic season. If the Sagehens are able to win SCIAC again and face the Broncos again at WWPAs, the fans are going to have the chance to see just exactly which team is David and which is Goliath.

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