CMS Men's Water Polo Welcomes in Pomona-Pitzer for SCIAC Semifinal Match on Friday Night

Axelrood Pool will welcome another big crowd on Friday night as the Sixth Street rivals meet again
Axelrood Pool will welcome another big crowd on Friday night as the Sixth Street rivals meet again

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CLAREMONT, Calif. - There will be a lot at stake on Friday night at Axelrood Pool as the second-seeded Claremont-Mudd-Scripps men's water polo team hosts a SCIAC Semifinal contest against Sixth Street rival and No. 3 seed Pomona-Pitzer at Axelrood Pool, beginning at 7 p.m.

The SCIAC Championship is obviously on the line, with the winner of the semifinal matchup at Axelrood Pool playing the winner of the other semifinal between No. 1 seed Whittier and No. 4 seed Redlands in the championship match on Sunday morning at 11 a.m.

In addition, for the first time, USA Water Polo is sponsoring a national championship for Division III water polo this fall, with the two finalists from the SCIAC competing with two teams from the Collegiate Water Polo Association in a four-team field. Thus, the winner of the CMS and Pomona-Pitzer contest will play in three more postseason matches (the SCIAC finals and two in the Division III Championship), while the loser will have its season come to a close. 

For the senior class, there is added incentive in their final seasons with two potential trophies at stake, instead of the one that they have been accustomed to. 

"I don't want to say (the USA Water Polo Championship) has taken any of the priority off the SCIAC Championship," said senior two-time All-American Zack Rossman. "That's obviously a priority for me, Ethan (Lewis) and Harry (Miller). But having a natty now; we'd love to have a trophy up in the athletic office and leave a legacy here."

In order to have that chance, the Stags will have to defeat their arch-rivals after both regular season SCIAC match-ups came right down to the wire, with each team winning by one goal. CMS won at Pomona-Pitzer on Oct. 9 by a 9-8 final, when Ethan Lewis scored with just under two minutes left, and sophomore goalie Noah Smith had two big saves late to preserve the one-goal win. 

The rematch last week at Axelrood Pool went to double overtime, after Rossman tied the score 8-8 on a goal with just two seconds left in regulation. Each team scored once in the first six-minute overtime, with Lewis giving CMS its first lead of the contest at 9-8 before Pomona-Pitzer answered. After the match went to sudden death, neither team could score in the first three-minute session before the Sagehens won the sprint to secure possession at the start of the next one, and scored on their first possession to earn the 10-9 win. 

The two teams will be meeting each other in the SCIAC Tournament for the fourth year in a row. They faced each other in the SCIAC Championship match last year, when the Sagehens took control early and went on to an 11-4 win. Pomona-Pitzer also won in the 2017 semifinal matchup between the teams 13-10, when the Sagehens were the top seed and CMS was the No. 4 seed, and defeated CMS in the 2016 championship game 7-4. The Stags won its last SCIAC title in 2015 over Whittier, and last defeated Pomona-Pitzer in the postseason in 2012, with a 16-8 win in the SCIAC Finals. 

None of the current players were on the 2015 championship team, and this season marks the final chance for the senior class after falling to Pomona-Pitzer in the conference tournament in each of the last three years. 

"Putting in all that work and coming up short," said Lewis, "really makes this year important to finally overcome that final hump of claiming the title."

Lewis leads the Stags in goals this season with 45 heading into the SCIAC Tournament, while sophomore Will Clark is second in goals (40) and first in assists (46) and points (86). Rossman is second on the Stags in points with 60 on 33 goals and 27 assists, while junior Christian Thornton (27 goals) and junior Nick Britt (22) are also over 20 goals on the year. First-year Kyle Ballack (14 goals, 20 assists) and sophomore Eric Warmoth (10 goals, 17 assists) are in the top five on CMS in assists as well. 

Smith has had an impressive sophomore season in goal for the Stags, registering a 16-9 record and a .510 save percentage with 211 saves on the year. His goals against average stands at 9.07, but only 7.76 against SCIAC competition. 

The championship match on Sunday would be held at the higher seed, which gives top-seeded Whittier the inside track to host the finals at 11 a.m. If Redlands upsets Whittier, it would open the door for the CMS vs. Pomona-Pitzer winner to host the championship match.