CMC75 Moments: 2019 Men's Water Polo Defeats Sagehens WIth Thrilling Comeback
As part of the buildup to the 75th Anniversary celebration for Claremont McKenna College (visit CMC's 75th Anniversary Countdown Page to learn more), we are reliving many of the great moments from CMS athletic department history over the 75-day countdown from April 17 to July 1. If you were a part of this great moment and would like to add to the memories, or if you would like to submit your memories of your own favorite CMS Athletics moment, fill out the form on our main 75th Anniversary page.
Great Moments from 75 Years of Athletics
2019 Men's Water Polo: CMS 12, Pomona-Pitzer 11 (SCIAC Semis)
The two Sixth Street rivals faced each other in the SCIAC Men's Water Polo Semifinals in 2019 in a game that felt every bit like a championship. For one thing, it was a Sixth Street rivalry game, and those always feel like championships anyway, especially in the postseason. But for another, the winner of the SCIAC semifinal was guaranteed to earn one of the four spots in the first-ever USA Water Polo Division III Championship, giving the semifinal the same automatic bid stakes that usually go with a championship.
The two teams split a pair of one-goal games during the regular season and tied in the standings, but the Stags earned the tiebreaker and the right to host. It was the Sagehens, though, who got the early upper hand, storming out to a 7-2 lead after the first quarter and a 9-4 lead at the half. CMS regrouped, though, and staged a comeback in front of a raucous crowd at Axelrood Pool that was packed with supporters from both sides of the street. Ethan Lewis scored with 4:28 left to cap a 5-0 run and tie the score 9-9. Then Christian Thornton tied it 10-10 and Will Clark tied it 11-11, setting up a dramatic finish.
With 37 seconds left and the shot clock expiring, Lewis was a long way from the Pomona-Pitzer net, but had nothing to lose, so he sent a shot from long distance, which found the corner of the net for the first CMS lead of the night, making it 12-11. Lewis got whistled for an exclusion with 24 seconds left, but the Stags held off the Pomona-Pitzer power play and then didn't allow the Sagehens to get a shot off in the final few seconds, taking a thrilling one-goal win, earning a trip to the SCIAC finals and a trip to the USA Water Polo championships.
Lewis earned first-team Division III All-America honors, Zack Rossman was a second-team All-American, and Clark and goalie Noah Smith were both named second-team All-SCIAC.
I'll start with the rivalry. It really wasn't a great one. For the seniors, it was just PP kicking our a** for three years. What I will say is that during those three years, a deep, almost subconscious anger brewed in our hearts from losing to the same guys over and over again. Now anger seems like a pretty intense way to describe our feelings, but it was true, we hated PP. We hated the way they played, we hated their personalities, and we hated the feeling of walking back to our dorms after another tough loss.
But before I get too dark here, that hate ultimately was our key to victory. It numbed us, or it did for me. The fear and jitters we would usually have playing them simply got blocked out by an insatiable desire to win over a team we despised so much. I felt that heading into that semifinal game, our team could not have been more ready. Physically ready, of course. Mentally, we were on a whole other level.
The first half of that game was nothing less than tragic. They played exceptionally well, and we played exceptionally poor. Yet the five-goal deficit we carried heading into that locker room didn't feel as heavy as I thought it would. I remember sitting down in my usual spot on the locker room bench almost laughing to myself thinking, "man, everything that could have gone their way, went their way." It was a shame that only in my final game of my senior year season did I truly feel the water polo gods saying that the next half would be dramatically different, and it was. (Coach Greg Lonzo), having been in these situations many times told us exactly that. I don't remember his exact words, but it was something along the lines of "there is no way in hell that is happening again. We play our game the way we've played it all year, and I swear it's going to be our turn for our shots to start falling."
That's what I loved most about that halftime talk. There was no secret formula or play or adjustment we needed to make, it was just about staying calm and sticking to our guns. As we huddled up one last time that year in our locker room, I remember looking around at all of the faces of my teammates. All I could see were smiles and radiating confidence. I don't think I've ever felt better entering a second half in my entire life. Whether it be down by five or leading by ten, we were ready to take this game.
Having the crowd at the game made it so much more of a roller coaster than it already was. Each time one of the teams scored, it made it that much more impactful hearing hundreds of students cheer you on and hype up your already peaking adrenaline. It was an incredible feeling. A particularly great moment was looking up at the crowd and seeing so many familiar faces. So many friendships built over four years and incredible memories had. It was truly humbling and heartwarming to have some of my closest friends support me playing the sport I loved so dearly.
Speaking of the crowd, that's how I knew the game winner went in. My head was underwater ready to book it back to defense before I heard the unexpected cheering. I mean, to be honest, that shot did not have the highest percentage of going in. The shot clock was ticking its final seconds, I was a right-hander on the 4-5 side, and there was a defender clinging to my back. My saving grace was being lucky enough to peek at the goalie's positioning as I was attempting to draw a foul. He was slightly farther right than he should have been. When I saw the opening, I gave it all I had left. It wasn't a perfect shot, or really a great shot for that matter, but it was the right shot at the right time.
During the last possession of the game I was majored for my third and final exclusion of the game. Did I care? No. We were one defensive stop from winning this behemoth of a game. I could not have had more confidence in our defense and our goalie Noah (Smith). Those guys were locked in. We survived their power play and their final possession after. The buzzer went off signaling the game had ended, we had won. Pure joy consumed each and every one of us in the moment. Joy in the fact that we had worked so hard that season, fought so direly that game, and never, not even for a second, came close to giving up. I know for my fellow seniors then, Zack and Harry (Harrison Miller), it was such a relief to finally close the PP novel with an absolute thriller last chapter and an undeniably satisfying CMS pride-filled ending. Not to mention we were heading to the first-ever D3 national championship tournament.
MWP: Stags WIN! Ethan Lewis puts CMS in front for good with a late goal and the Stags hold on 12-11! pic.twitter.com/AoFnqzp5k8— CMS Athletics (@AthleticsCMS) November 23, 2019
2019 Men's Water Polo Roster
Head Coach: Greg Lonzo
Assistant Coaches: David Merryman, Josh Tippetts
Kyle Ballack (Fr., Attack, CMC)
Will Clark (So., Attack, CMC)
CJ Box (Jr., Center, CMC)
Nick Britt (Jr., Attack, CMC)
Robert Driscoll (Jr., Attack, CMC)
Sam Harrison (Sr., Utility, CMC)
Nick Hernandez (Fr., Attack, CMC)
Koss Klobucher (Jr., Attack, CMC)
Ethan Lewis (Sr., Defense, CMC)
Nick Maramica (Fr., Attack, CMC)
Harrison Miller (Sr., Attack, CMC)
Sean Pine (Jr., Attack, CMC)
Zack Rossman (Sr., Attack, CMC)
Noah Smith (So., Goalie, HMC)
Christian Thornton (Jr., Utility, CMC)
Matt Tran (So., Goalie, HMC)
Eric Warmoth (So., Attack, CMC)
Eric Weiner (Jr., Defense, HMC)
Ben Weldon (Fr., Attack, CMC)
Noah Weldon (Fr., Center, CMC)
Andrew Wraith (So., Attack, CMC)