Preview: Hens, Athenas struggle against DI competition but remain eager for SCIAC play

A woman in a pool holds a water polo ball over her head and looks around to pass it to the right of the image, while a second woman stretches out in the water to try and grab the ball.
Both the P-P and CMS women’s water polo teams are optimistic for the Spring 2020 season, and will first play each other on March 4th. (Amy Best • The Student Life)

P-P women’s water polo looks to avenge 2019 SCIAC title loss with fresh faces

The 2019 season was set up to be a storybook year for the Pomona-Pitzer women’s water polo team — led by eight seniors, P-P entered the SCIAC Tournament a perfect 14-0, the clear favorite to win the title. However, Cal Lutheran played spoiler in the conference title game, stopping the Hens’ campaign in its tracks in a heartbreaking 10-9 defeat.

This season, P-P (0-2, 0-0 SCIAC), has its sights set again on winning it all. And while much of last year’s squad has graduated, the Hens’ chances seem strong — they are ranked second in the SCIAC preseason poll, right behind the Regals.

However, this season, there’s even more to play for than a conference title. Beyond the SCIAC, both the Claremont-Mudd-Scripps and P-P squads have agreed to forgo the NCAA tournament for spots in the inaugural USA Water Polo DIII National Championships if they qualify for post-SCIAC competition. 

In the past, the NCAA Tournament pitted powerhouse Division I programs like USC against smaller DIII schools. The new championship aims to level the playing field.

Lucie Abele PO ’22 was excited about the change, and thinks the new national championship is an “amazing opportunity” for her and the Sagehens. 

“Our team has the ability to win it all, which is an incredible motivator,” she said.

So far this season, the Sagehens have played two games, both of which took place Jan. 25. The first contest was against Loyola Marymount, in which the Sagehens lost 14-9. They then fell to UC San Diego 17-7. 

Abele was named the SCIAC Offensive Athlete of the Week for her performances in those games. She scored three goals against UC San Diego and added one against LMU.

Despite the losses, Abele was not deterred, as both LMU and UCSD are Division I squads.

“Our Sagehens performed really well,” Abele said. “We played strongly and cohesively, and managed to showcase our individual talents and skills. Our LMU game was particularly close — we kept the score within one or two goals for most of the game.” 

Going forward, the Sagehens will be looking to their first-years — including Aurora Sheridan PO ’23, Madison Lewis PO ’23, Isabella Phillips PO ’23, Min Kim PO ’23 and Paulina Correa PZ ’23 — to pick up right where the graduating seniors left off.

“Even with a young team, each player brings so much, and our captains, Izzy Wiesenthal [PO ’21] and Haley Crabtree [PZ ’21], have been amazing at building a fun and supportive team culture,” Abele said.

Two returners to look out for this year are the Sagehens’ goalkeeper Crabtree, who made 15 saves against UCSD, and Nadia Paquin PO ’22, who received DIII All-American Honorable Mention honors last season.

The Sagehens last won the SCIAC title in 2018, and have won nine since 2006.

Young Athenas ‘fired up’ for rest of water polo season

To begin their season, Claremont-Mudd-Scripps Athenas women’s water polo squad hopped on a cross-country flight — leaving behind sunny Southern California for chilly Providence, Rhode Island — for a weekend at the Bruno Classic, hosted by Brown University.  

The Athenas (1-3, 0-0 SCIAC) played in four contests Feb. 1-2, opening with a 14-4 win against Austin College, and coming up short against the three Division I teams in the tournament: Marist, Brown and Bucknell. 

“In the last game against Bucknell, we fired up, and I could really feel the competition in us. I’m looking forward to many more games like that,” utility player Addi Duvall CM ’22 said. “The first games at Brown have left me really optimistic for the season. We know what we can improve on now, and I’m confident in our depth and talent.” 

Heading into conference play, the Athenas are looking to improve on their sixth place finish from last season, and are poised to do so — the SCIAC’s coaches picked the team to finish fourth this season. 

The Athenas enter the year with a tremendously young team — 11 of the 21 players are sophomores and four are first-years. Despite the team’s youth, the team is optimistic they will exceed expectations due to the return of their top seven scorers and three goalies. 

“If anything, we’ve become more intense about winning,” Duvall said. “We all know that we’re capable of it, so it’s really about supporting each other to become the best athlete[s] we can.” 

In addition to performing well in games, the team is emphasizing supporting one another and focusing on mental health. Before the official preseason started, the Athenas took a team-bonding retreat to the beach, where they rotated between yoga, ocean swims and talking about team goals and expectations. 

“Our upperclassmen have stressed the importance of mental health as well as physical health, and every person is aware that they can reach out to anyone on the team for questions, academic support or someone to get a meal with,” Duvall said.

CMS will have another week off before returning to action at the Redlands Invitational Feb. 15.


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