By Michelle Gardner
The women’s water polo team from Pomona-Pitzer got to square off against the top Division I teams in the country last year but was overwhelmed from the start.
The Sagehens are getting the same chance and hoping for a better showing in this year’s national tournament which starts Friday at Stanford. The Sagehens (13-8), who got an automatic bid by finishing first in the SCIAC, open play against No 1. UCLA (30-0). That’s the same opening-round foe they drew last year and lost 22-0.
“Last year we were just happy to be there,” Sagehens coach Alex Rodriguez said. “We’re looking forward to a more competitive showing this year. We’re not saying we’re going to win but we want to do a better job of representing our conference.”
Water polo is one of the few sports where colleges don’t compete in divisions because there are only 65 that have teams. The other six teams in the field this week are No. 2 seed Stanford, No. 3 USC, No. 4 San Diego State, No. 5 UC Davis, No. 6 Michigan and No. 7 Marist.
One reason Rodriguez is expecting a better showing is that this year’s team has improved. It graduated just two players and has had some key additions.
The Sagehens are led by senior Laura Condon, senior keeper Elena Peifer and junior driver Janelle Gyorffy.
But there have also been some imprssive newcomers in freshman driver Tamara Perea (Upland HS) and junior Nicole Ruesch, a transfer from Chaffey College.
The coach also singles out the improvement of sophomore driver Danielle Joseph, who typically gets the job of defending the opposing team’s best perimeter player.
“Last year we were basically practicing dummies for them,” Rodriguez said. “They had things they wanted to work on and they weren’t going to sit there and feel sorry for us. We want to make them have to work for it.”