For the second season straight, Whittier College Men’s Water Polo reached the Semi-Finals in the Southern California Athletic Conference (SCIAC) Tournament. However, on Friday Nov. 16, Men’s Water Polo fell one victory short from their quest for a SCIAC Post-season Tournament title as they lost 13 – 6 to Claremont-Mudd-Scripps (CMS) at the Lillian Slade Aquatic Center.
That chilly Friday night, two evenly matched teams played in a deciding game to determine who would go head to head against the defending champions Pomona-Pitzer. A sold-out crowd filled the Lillian Slade Aquatic Center, as fans cheered on their teams while holding up posters with players names and number written across, in efforts to give them an edge on momentum or motivation during the game. “I love playing when there’s a packed house and everyone [is] going wild and stomping on the bleachers,” said second-year Defender Tyler Chung. “The noise is just such an adrenaline boost and really helps with the momentum of the game.”
The Poets looked to return to the big stage of the SCIAC championship game for the second consecutive season and win their first title since 2014. During the 2018 season, Whittier College and CMS played against each other twice. Both games were decided by the same 11 – 10 score, with each team winning in their home pool.
Whittier came out playing aggressively in the first quarter. First-year Attacker Eric Borunda and third-year Center Cornelis Kriek started the scoring for the Poets with back-to-back connections. CMS came back to tie the game at two, but Whittier would lead 3 – 2 after the first eight minutes as Borunda scored his second goal of the night. Going into the half, the game was tied at 4 – 4. With the start of the second half, the Poets took a 6 – 5 lead midway through the third after both teams exchanged the first three goals of the second half. “The team underperformed in the semifinal in many ways. We had a strong first half, and fell off in the second,” said second-year Attacker Kyle Aguilar. “We have much room for improvement, and it starts for us during the off season.”
That would turn out to be the last goal that the Poets would score, as the Poets did not score during the remaining minutes of the third and fourth quarter. Much like the hot start the Poets had in the first, CMS caught fire in the second half and outscored the Poets 9 – 2. CMS scored five times in the final four minutes of the third quarter to stun the Purple & Gold and take a 10 – 6 lead heading into the fourth. Third-year Utility Player Christian Thornton began the outburst of offense for CMS’S run in the third quarter with a tying goal, and was followed up with a goal by third-year Defender Ethan Lewis.
Lewis’s score gave CMS the lead with 2 min and 47 sec. left in the third quarter. A tale of two halves was shown during the Poet’s playoff game. The Poet’s came out strong in the first quarter, then began to slow down as the closing minutes of the first half came ticking closer. “We could have improved on our mental focus in the game. I think a lot of us were thinking about the Pomona game on Sunday [Championship],” said Chung. “Many of our top attackers weren’t able to put shots away, and our starting center was removed from the game.”
In the closing minutes of the third quarter, Thornton scored for the second time to give CMS a 8 – 6 lead with 1 min and 42 sec remaining. Lewis scored his fourth goal of the night to give CMS a 9 – 6 lead, and third-year Attacker Zack Rossman scored with seven seconds left to make it a 10-6 lead going into the fourth.
Lewis capped off the scoring with his sixth of the night to make the final 13 – 6. “While being our most important game of the season, I felt as if it was one our worst games of the season,” said second-year Attacker Carlos Heredia Viteri. “We did not play at our highest level and CMS just took advantage of that.”After that, it was all CMS as they went on an 8 – 0 run that covered the final 11 min 43 sec helping them secure the road victory.
Despite the Poet’s season coming to an end, this young team’s future is bright with first-year Head Coach David Kasa to be the one coaching this team. “Despite the disappointing ending, I felt as if our season was very successful. We definitely won’t forget this year’s Semi-Final,” said Viteri. “We won’t let it bring us down, our team is ready to grow and win.” Poets end the year finishing in a tie for the second place in the final SCIAC standings.