Pomona-Pitzer, the No. 1-ranked team in Division III women’s water polo all season, will try to bring home a second consecutive USA Water Polo Division III Collegiate National Championship this weekend. And this year, the Sagehens will have to win on the road as Augustana College hosts the four-team tournament May 6-7 in Rock Island, Illinois.
No matter what Pomona-Pitzer’s final win-loss record is, it will never fully tell the tale of this team. At 24-10, the Sagehens have taken their share of losses but have 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’re not only ranked No. 1 in D-III—they’re also ranked No. 22 in the all-division poll dominated by D-I teams.
A Challenging Schedule
The Sagehens played eight-time NCAA Division I champion Stanford and six-time champ USC, the runner-up to Stanford in last year’s NCAA title game. They played Michigan, San Diego State, UC San Diego, Brown, Harvard, UC Santa Barbara and Princeton, all top-25 ranked Division I teams—and all Sagehens losses.
But there’s more. They also played then-No. 11 Indiana—and won, claiming the best win in program history against a ranked opponent. They also defeated then-No. 22 Long Island University, a team headed to the NCAA tournament.
“When we play D-I teams, most of the time we’re the David in the David-and-Goliath situation,” says Madison Lewis ’24, the Sagehens co-captain along with Abigail Wiesenthal ’24. “We have a lot of great players, but we are very, very rarely going to be on the same physical level with the D-I teams we play at the beginning of the season when we’re at the beginning of our season.”
Division I players are usually bigger, stronger and in peak condition, too, with more year-round training than Division III players. But Pomona-Pitzer stunned the Hoosiers in the Barbara Kalbus Invitational in February in only the Sagehens’ second appearance in the prestigious Southern California tournament.
“I think last year, we were definitely just getting our footing,” says goalkeeper Zosia Amberger ’25. “This year, we knew what we could do. We were coming in ready to go. We obviously did win one, which was super amazing.”
Conditions were less than ideal, with rain on and off throughout the tournament.
“And the chlorine in the pool was really, really bad. Everyone’s eyes were on fire,” Amberger says. “I think a big part of that game was some of our bench players and even people who were injured were bringing us water and eyedrops. Literally every timeout, every quarter, we had like 10 bottles of eyedrops just being passed around. It was the whole team that was pushing us through the entire time.”
An Undefeated SCIAC Season
The Sagehens went on to go undefeated during the SCIAC regular season and claimed the SCIAC tournament title April 30 at Haldeman Pool with a 9-5 victory over CMS, which also advances to the four-team national tournament. In addition, Pomona-Pitzer placed four players on the All-SCIAC first team, led by Offensive Athlete of the Year Namlhun Jachung PZ ’24. Amberger, Alexandra Szczerba ’25 and Wiesenthal also made the first team, and Head Coach Alex Rodriguez and his staff—Associate Head Coach Alex La and assistants Chris Lee and Elyssa Hawkins—were voted coaching staff of the year.
The Sagehens will try to add another trophy to the case this weekend. Still, there’s something about going up against D-I players who will stock the rosters of future Olympic teams.
“For me, I love that first part of the season, that really challenging part of the season,” Lewis says. “I love being able to punch above our weight.”