Top-Ranked Sagehens Eye Division III Three-Peat in Women’s Water Polo

Pomona-Pitzer's women's water polo team poses for a picture

Before their annual soirees with Division III foes, the Pomona-Pitzer women’s water polo team dances with Division I powers, and while cutting a rug with the likes of the University of Hawai’i, the University of Southern California and UC Irvine isn’t for the faint of heart, the Sagehens return to the bash year after year.

Returning captains Abby Wiesenthal ’24, Madison Lewis ’24 and Namlhun Jachung PZ ’24 took their lumps as young starters playing preseason games against the best programs in the country.

But punching above their weight served a greater purpose.

For the sixth straight year, including the COVID-shortened 2020 season, the Sagehens went undefeated in Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference play. Pomona-Pitzer captured a third consecutive SCIAC Tournament title this past weekend and can three-peat as Division III national champions with two more wins this weekend.

“We don’t let Division III define us,” says Assistant Coach Alex La, who’s helming the team this season with Head Coach Alex Rodriguez on sabbatical. “We define who we are. We always want to take on the best and really see where we stack up.”

Wiesenthal, a molecular biology major, remembers a time two years ago when she and her teammates entered preseason tournaments in awe of their Division I opponents.

“We have to play USC?” she recalls thinking. “They have Olympians on their team.”

Division I athletes “tend to be a lot bigger,” Lewis says, and “just have a lot more time to practice together in the offseason.”

But Division III athletes aren’t without their own advantages.

“There’s a unique type of athlete that’s attracted to a Division III program—someone who’s looking at the sport as a part of their holistic college experience,” Lewis says. “Playing water polo doesn’t feel like a job here. It’s something we want to do, and that desire and motivation to show up for your teammates and for yourself give us a bit of an edge.”

A healthy reverence for top programs fuels the Sagehens’ competitive spirit, Wiesenthal says. In 2023, Pomona-Pitzer knocked off Division I Indiana. This season, the Sagehens beat Marist College and Brown University twice.

“This year, I think everybody expected to win those games, especially the seniors, who really want to leave a legacy,” La says. “Our program has always been about ‘Who can we knock off? How good can we be? And how can we prove that we can hang with and be ranked amongst the top teams?’”

La is the kind of coach to set incremental goals throughout the season, and while winning is always one of them, so is getting everyone on the roster reps in high leverage situations against elite competition.

Pomona-Pitzer is a perennial Division III power because its seniors have shared the pool with Division I adversaries for years. Such experience, La says, prevents down seasons, as new leaders emerge every spring.

“We breed a really competitive environment,” says Wiesenthal, who led the Sagehens with 42 goals this season. “Every game matters because that’s the way you make them more fun. It’s fun to be good.”

Three tournaments define Pomona-Pitzer’s regular season: the Bruno, the Barbara Kalbus and the Convergence, which Pomona College hosts. Each is stacked with Division I titans that require the Sagehens’ best.

Wins come at a premium, but the gauntlets propel the team into SCIAC play, where Pomona-Pitzer hasn’t lost since 2017.

Last month, Jachung repeated as SCIAC Athlete of the Year while goalkeeper Zosia Amberger ’25 earned her second SCIAC Defensive Athlete of the Year award. Wiesenthal and Brienz Lang ’26 were named first- and second-team All-SCIAC, respectively, and La and his bench received Coaching Staff of the Year laurels.

“We have a mindset of wanting to be the absolute best team we can be with what we have and punch above our weight,” says Lewis, a public policy analysis major. “The goal every season is to come together as a collective to be way more than the sum of our parts.”

The Sagehens won the USA Water Polo Division III National Championship on May 5 by defeating Claremont-Mudd-Scripps, 15-10.