Like US Hockey Coach Herb Brooks with his 1980 Olympic Gold Medal team, coach Alex Rodriguez knows his team won’t always be the most talented, but they can be the best conditioned. Last weekend’s 12-8 victory over 20th-ranked Cal Baptist gave the Pomona-Pitzer Men’s Water Polo team two victories over nationally ranked opponents in as many weeks, and Rodriguez sees conditioning as the key.“They have better athletes, but we’re in better shape,” Rodriguez said.In the past, the team had competed with better opponents by utilizing the strategy of Chaminade basketball circa 1982 (when the pesky D-II Silverswords took down top-ranked Virginia) and slowing the pace of the game to a crawl. “Now we can play with high level teams and play them straight,” Rodriguez said.Robbie Hayes PO ’10 described the team’s “thorough” conditioning program. “We’re 6:30 a.m. to 8:30 a.m. three days a week, with the first hour swimming and the second in the weight room with trainer Gabbi,” Hayes said. “Then it’s 4:15 to 6:30 in the afternoon five days a week, where we do actual polo stuff.”Dan Kadvany PO ’10 described the training as “grueling and multifaceted,” and pointed out that they “are also being taught MMA fighting by [Assistant] Coach Chris [Gielen]. If you want to be hard like a diamond, you have to train in all facets of the diamond.” Andrew Ayres PO ’10 called the physical preparation “emotionally defeating” and “surprising on a daily basis.”Yet say what the players will, in Rodriguez’s five year tenure the current 9-10 record is the best he’s ever had at this point in the season. In fact, the Sagehens have never been above .500 as a team at any point in his career. While this record is due in large part to the tough non-conference schedule Rodriguez puts the team through every year, it speaks volume about the kind of season we are currently experiencing.The Sagehens have been rewarded for their hard work with a spot on NCAA national poll, at 20 overall, tops among Division-III schools.Now the season switches into phase two: conference play. The Sagehens open up the SCIAC season at Cal Tech Saturday, Oct. 17. While winning that game should be easier than a thinking of a Nobel Peace Prize joke, the team faces non-conference opponent Chapman that afternoon and CMS Wednesday night.In their earlier contest with Chapman at the Inland Empire Tournament in Riverside, the Sagehens emerged with a 10-9 overtime victory, and after such a close game, both teams feel they have something to prove the second time around.The marquee matchup will be Wednesday, Oct. 21 at CMS. After losing twice to the Stags last year, including 8-7 in overtime in the regular season and 6-5 at WWPA’s, the Sagehens will be looking to exact revenge on their Sixth Street rivals.The team expects Sagehen fans to show up en masse.“It is super rad to have more fans than CMS at their own pool,” said Hayes. He further acknowledged “the turnout two years ago for this game was pathetic.”Coming off the heels of the Harvard game two weeks ago, where a lot of fans showed up to cheer on the Sagehens, turnout will likely be high for what promises to be a compelling rivalry game.CMS’s Axelrood pool is also a great place to see a game, especially from the visiting sidelines. The taller, more vertical bleachers provide the fans with the sensation of being right on top of the pool and in the heart of the action. That vantage point coupled with the fact that the game takes place the first day back from fall break should bring out many spectators.Despite all the early success, Rodriguez said he does not expect his players to lose intensity.“Conference is strong this year with Cal Lu, Redlands, and CMS all good,” Rodriguez said. “Our guys can’t think we’re just going to roll through.”Receiving more national recognition than the program ever has before still brings some drawbacks. The team is now marked by success, and SCIAC competitors will no doubt want to take them down that much more.While much of that success is due to the leaders—Hayes, Ryan Balikian PO ’11, Ben Hadley PO ’11, Kyle Pokorny PO ’12, Jason Henshall PI ’10—production has come from unexpected places too.“Mark [“Marky-Mark”] Hudnall [PO ’13] has played above expectations,” Rodriguez commented. “Despite being small, he’s a high energy, competitive guy who is not afraid to rough it up.”This past weekend in the Sagehens’ 12-8 victory over Cal Baptist, Hudnall was second on the team in scoring with two goals, while Hadley led the way with six. Pokorny had another impressive day in the cage, stopping ten shots, three of which came from the right arm of the much-heralded “Hungarian Assassin” Norbie Karoly.Coach Brooks’ goal for his hockey team in 1980 was to change the way they looked at themselves in relation to the top teams. The same transformation seems to be taking place right here for our P-P men’s water polo team.“It’s as much a mindset change as it is a training change,” Hayes acknowledged. The Sagehens hope that mindset will continue to strengthen as they move into the SCIAC season and put the big boys on the backburner—at least until after they take care of business.