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 in a taut showdown before Pomona-Pitzer won the championship, 14-13, after CMS 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. Because the NCAA only holds a single-division championship tournament dominated by Division I programs, USA Water Polo stepped up to sponsor Division III titles for men and women in recent years.
It looked as if this one would be easy at first. The Sagehens won their semifinal game against Austin College, 20-4, before opening an 11-6 halftime lead on the Athenas in the May 7 final. The second half was a different story as CMS held Pomona-Pitzer to a single goal in the final two periods of regulation.
CMS came back 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.
Abigail Wiesenthal ’24 gave Pomona-Pitzer the lead with a goal in the first of the two three-minute overtime periods, but McKenna scored on another five-meter penalty shot to tie the score. In the second overtime, the Sagehens’ Alexandra Szczerba ’25 scored 27 seconds in and CMS couldn’t answer, hitting the crossbar in the final seconds. The Sagehens sealed it with a steal.
Wiesenthal, 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. CMS was represented by McKenna and Christina Kulick ’23.
The title game marked the first time the Sagehens and Athenas have met on such a grand stage, as CMS played in the USA Water Polo women’s tournament for the first time. Pomona-Pitzer and CMS met in the SCIAC tournament championship this season for the first time since 2014, and Pomona-Pitzer has dominated the Athenas in Sixth Street Rivalry games, winning 18 in a row since 2011.
With the win, the Sagehens (26-10) 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 National Championship.