Summer 2023 /Historic Causes/

Teamwork: Another National Title for Women’s Water Polo

When we play D-I teams, most of the time we’re the David in the David-and-Goliath situation.

Teamwork: Another National Title for Women’s Water Polo

The wire-to-wire No. 1 team in Division III women’s water polo this season had to go the extra distance to bring home its second consecutive national championship.

Pomona-Pitzer flew two time zones to play in the four-team USA Water Polo Division III National Championship tournament in Rock Island, Illinois, only to meet Sixth Street rival Claremont-Mudd-Scripps (CMS) in the title game.

The Athenas pressed the Sagehens even further, taking them to overtime before Pomona-Pitzer won the championship, 14-13, after CMS just missed a shot in the final seconds of the second overtime period.

With that, the Sagehens defended the Division III title they won at home in Haldeman Pool last year. The NCAA holds only a single-division championship tournament dominated by Division I programs, but USA Water Polo sponsors a Division III title for men and women.

“I want to thank USA Water Polo for stepping up and organizing this tournament,” Sagehens Coach Alex Rodriguez said. “They are providing an experience for our student-athletes that was not available before.”

CMS came from behind and forced overtime with four seconds left in regulation when Cooper McKenna ’24 made good on a five-meter penalty shot to tie the score at 12-12.

“I think the world of the CMS coaching staff and they had their team prepared to fight,” Rodriguez said.

The Sagehens netted the winning goal early in the second overtime period on a hard shot by Alexandra Szczerba ’25. CMS couldn’t break through against goalkeeper Zosia Amberger ’25, hitting the crossbar in the final seconds before the Sagehens sealed it with a steal.

Abigail Wiesenthal ’24, who scored six goals in the final game and four in the semifinal, earned most valuable player honors. She was joined on the eight-player all-tournament team by Szczerba and Namlhun Jachung PZ ’24.

With the win, the Sagehens repeated their triple titles of a year ago, winning the SCIAC regular-season championship, the SCIAC tournament championship and the USA Water Polo Division III title.

Another National Title for Women’s Water Polo

Still, Pomona-Pitzer’s 26-10 record doesn’t fully tell the tale. The Sagehens stood up to Division I teams all season, taking on a powerhouse schedule to prepare to defend their 2022 Division III title. As a result, they finished the season not only ranked No. 1 in D-III—they also ranked No. 22 in the all-division poll dominated by D-I teams.

They pulled their biggest upset in a game against then-No. 11 Indiana, claiming the best win in program history against a ranked opponent. They also defeated then-No. 22 Long Island University, a team that reached the NCAA tournament.

“When we play D-I teams, most of the time we’re the David in the David-and-Goliath situation,” said Madison Lewis ’24, the Sagehens co-captain along with Wiesenthal. That’s true, said Amberger, who as goalie has the task of facing likely future Olympians from teams like Stanford and USC.

“We obviously did win one, which was super amazing,” Amberger said.