Stags top Sagehens in ‘fiery’ Sixth Street battle, capping busy week for water polo teams

A male water polo player takes a shot on goal while opposing players defend the goal.
Keegan Coleman PZ ’21 and Noah Sasaki PO ’21 defend an incoming shot by a Pepperdine player Wednesday. (Talia Bernstein • The Student Life)

The 5C men’s water polo teams emerged from a hectic weekend of tournament play with a pair of big victories and two disappointing defeats apiece — but it was Claremont-Mudd-Scripps that scored the statement win of the week, beating their Sixth Street rivals 9-8 Wednesday night.

After a back-and-forth game between the two squads, two Stags came up huge in the suspenseful closing minutes at Haldemann Pool to seal the win for CMS (8-8, 3-1 SCIAC) over Pomona-Pitzer (9-7, 2-2 SCIAC).

Coming out of halftime, the two teams were tied with six goals each. Ethan Lewis CM ’20 scored two goals in the third to put CMS ahead, but Riley Mangan PZ ’20 and Joseph Schafer PO ’20 each scored to help the Hens claw back in the fourth.

With fans on their edge of their seats and less than two minutes to go, Lewis made another clutch goal to give the Stags the lead. Noah Smith HM ’22, who had nine saves in the game, made another key stop to fend off P-P and secure the victory.

“We’re psyched about the performance,” Zack Rossman CM ’20 said in a message to TSL after the game. “We had a great energy all night and stuck to our game plan even when things weren’t going our way.”

The win gave CMS revenge for P-P’s victory earlier this season, and propelled them into a three-way tie for second place in the conference. And the Sagehens, who were ranked No. 1 in the nation for Division III coming into the season, dropped to fifth in the SCIAC.

“We didn’t end up with the result we wanted, but sometimes that’s the way it goes,” Noah Sasaki PO ’21 said in a message to TSL. “Last night, CMS was the better team and they wanted it more than we did. Moving forward, I think the biggest thing is stepping back as a team and taking a second to find our fire again.”

The rivalry game between P-P and CMS is one of Sasaki’s favorite atmospheres.

“I think what makes it so special is just the years of history and tradition that goes into the competitive spirit of the game,” he said. “There’s always a great crowd, and the environment is electric every year.”

Rossman felt similarly.

For CMS, this “game is what it’s all about. It’s got a fiery energy from the very start. … We’re really battling for pride more than anything else,” he said. “Our two teams have very different structures … and I think that really adds to the competitive spirit.”

Last weekend, both squads participated in this year’s Gary Troyer Tournament, which included 22 programs across the NCAA divisions. 

“The most exciting thing about playing in the Gary Troyer Tournament is the caliber of games we get to play in our home pool,” Sasaki said. “It’s always a blast to get a shot at some top [Division I] programs in the amazing environment of the Haldemann pool.” 

Added Rossman: “We always have a huge fan base show out. For kids who are out-of-state, this might be the one game their parents get to watch in person.”

The Sagehens got off to a strong start, beating the Air Force, a DI program, 11-8. Against other DI competition, though, P-P struggled, losing 12-9 to No. 9 UCSD and 13-7 to No. 8 Pepperdine.

The Sagehens capped tournament play with a victory over California Baptist University 10-7, which was the program’s first win over Cal Baptist since 2013. 

Sasaki was pleased with his team’s efforts. 

“Going into the tournament, I had high expectations,” he said. “Although we did not win all four games, I’d say we had a successful tournament and am super happy with how we played.”

On the other side of Sixth Street, CMS also scored two wins. 

The Stags beat Fresno Pacific 15-11 — their third victory over the Sunbirds this season — and edged out California Baptist in a nail-biter. CMS scored the last three goals, recovering from a 7-5 deficit to win 8-7 at Axelrood Pool. 

Lewis and Koss Klobucher CM ’21 were instrumental in the win, with Smith netting seven saves.

CMS also lost 9-8 to Johns Hopkins and 19-10 to Pepperdine, despite four goals from Christian Thornton CM ’21 in the latter game.

“We’ve got a rare combination of talent and depth, which allows us to be confident going into almost any game,” Rossman said.

Both teams are only about halfway through their seasons and hungry for more success in the pool — specifically, a win in the inaugural USA Water Polo Division III National Championship

Sasaki hopes P-P will continue “working hard and pushing ourselves to continue to improve our play.”

After CMS’ triumphant rivalry game victory, Rossman hopes to start a win streak.

“Not all wins are created equal, but it’s also important to know how to pull out a victory on days when you might not have your best stuff,” he said.

Coming up next, the Sagehens will face La Verne and Redlands on Oct. 12. CMS will play Occidental the same day.

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