By Michael Randazzo, Swimming World Contributor
With a week left in the regular season, the Pomona-Pitzer women’s water polo team appears to be on track for a second-straight Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (SCIAC) title. Undefeated with games remaining against winless Cal Tech and Chapman, the Sage Hens (18-10, 12-0 SCIAC) are odds-on favorites to capture the top seed in the SCIAC Women’s Water Polo Championships, to be held April 27-29, and grab yet another SCIAC title, the program’s sixth overall.
But not if upstart Cal Lutheran has anything to say about it.
The Regals’ (19-7, 11-1 SCIAC) single loss in conference play came courtesy a 9-4 of the Sage Hens a month ago. Jocelyn Castro—as she has all season for Pomona-Pitzer—led the way with two goals. The senior attacker has 58 scores on the season, and has combined with senior Morgan McKraken (44) and junior Kahea Kahaulelio (41) to form a potent 1-2-3 attack (conference-leading 329 goals scored) for Head Coach Alex Rodriguez’s team.
Craig Rond’s Cal Lutheran squad has virtually no one in the top 10 in any SCIAC categories; in fact, only junior goalie Bailey Meyers is represented. But, with 180, she’s stopped the most shots—and it’s no surprise that she backstops the conference’s stingiest defense. An 8-0 blanking of Whittier this past weekend continues a season-long trend for a Regals’ team that only once this season has given up double-digits in goals—10 against Brown in a loss last month—and 130 goals on the season, an impressive 5 goals against average in 26 games. With two games remaining, Cal Lutheran boasts an even better 4 per game in 12 matches against SCIAC opponents.
But spoilers to a Sage Hens vs. Regals title tilt abound. Claremont-Mudd-Scripps (17-9, 10-3 SCIAC) play their final match of the regular season next Saturday against Cal Lutheran. A win could change the seeding at the top of the SCIAC standings giving the Athenas boundless confidence going into their conference tournament. Led by senior Jessica Gaffney’s 51 goals, CMS dropped a match earlier this season to Cal Lutheran by an 8-4 score. In that match, the Regals limited Gaffney to a single goal.
Also in the championship mix are the Chapman Panthers (10-15, 6-6). Led by senior Ellie Peterson’s 42 goals—last weeks SCIAC Women’s Water Polo Player of the Week—and her classmate Andi Sandoval’s 33 assists, this weekend Head Coach Eric Ploessel’s squad has a chance to knock Pomona-Pitzer from its undefeated perch.
Looking for redemption at season’s end are the Whittier Poets, who were selected second in the 2018 SCIAC pre-season poll but have fallen to 6-7 in regular season play, part of a disappointing 8-16 record. The 8-0 drubbing this weekend by Cal Lutheran underscores the challenge faced by Head Coach Justin Pudwell’s players. Junior Anastacia Gonzalez has chipped in with 36 goals.
The rest of the pack—including La Verne, Redlands, Occidental and Caltech—have chased the leaders all season and are unlikely to catch up any time soon. La Verne (8-15, 5-8 SCIAC) boasts fantastic freshman Jassmine Kezman, whose 67 goals leads all SCIAC players. Redlands (7-21, 5-8 SCIAC) has sophomore Olivia Allen, among others, to build upon. Occidental (3-19, 2-11 SCIAC) remains in rebuilding mode with another two years of Monica Chernoff (32 goals).
CalTech (0-21, 0-13 SCIAC) has two chances remaining for a win in 2018; a regular season meeting this Saturday with the Sage Hens and a conference play-in match a week later against Occidental. This season the Tigers have already tagged the Beavers with 18-2 and 12-7 losses. It appears likely that CalTech will have to wait until next year to break a losing streak that—including 11 losses to close out 2017—currently stands at 32.