Stags to Compete at USA Water Polo Division III Nationals this Weekend
CLAREMONT, Calif. - The Claremont-Mudd-Scripps men's water polo team will compete at the USA Water Polo Division III National Championships for the second time this weekend, taking on Johns Hopkins in the semifinals on Saturday at 2 p.m., which will be held at Pomona-Pitzer's Haldeman Pool.
Pomona-Pitzer will take on MIT in the first semifinal at 12 noon on Saturday, with the two winners meeting for the national championship on Sunday at 1 p.m. The consolation match will be held on Sunday at 11 a.m. Tickets are $12 for a one-day session, or $20 for all weekend.
This is the second time that USA Water Polo has sponsored a national Division III tournament, with the inaugural one taking place in 2019. CMS and Johns Hopkins met in the semifinals that year as well, which the Stags won 14-11, behind three goals from current senior Christian Thornton, two from current senior Sam Harrison, and 15 saves from current senior Noah Smith. CMS fell in the national finals in a low-scoring contest 5-3 to host Whittier.
After a one-year hiatus due to the pandemic, USA Water Polo resumed sponsorship of the tournament this year, and it looked at the midway point of the year like CMS might not be able to make it back for a return visit. The Stags dropped SCIAC matches at home in the first half to Pomona-Pitzer, Whittier and Cal Lutheran, and were sitting in fourth place needing to hold on to just to make the SCIAC Tournament.
The Stags, though, made huge strides as the season went on, dominating Cal Lutheran and Whittier in the rematches. CMS earned a 10-6 win over Cal Lutheran and a 16-7 win over Whittier in the final two weeks of the regular season, and then took a 15-10 win at Cal Lutheran in the SCIAC Semifinals (the Kingsmen closed on a 4-0 run in the final 2:30 to make the score look closer than it was) to ensure a return visit to the Division III nationals.
CMS is eyeing another shot at Pomona-Pitzer in the national championship, after the Sagehens pulled away late in the fourth quarter for a 12-8 win in the SCIAC finals two weeks ago, but both teams have to win their semifinals for that rematch to happen. Standing in the way on the Stag side is Johns Hopkins, which CMS defeated in a low-scoring matchup 9-3 earlier this year at home during the Gary Troyer Memorial Tournament on Oct. 1.
Thornton had a hat trick in that game to spur CMS onto the win, while Ben Weldon added two goals and Will Clark had a goal and three assists. Noah Smith had a big performance in goal, tallying 15 saves and allowing three goals in three quarters of work before giving way to Aidan Nettekoven in the fourth, who made four saves and did not allow a goal.
If CMS and Pomona-Pitzer do meet, the Stags will be trying to knock the Sagehens off for the first time after three very similar battles (11-8, 12-8, 12-8) in which Pomona-Pitzer earned some separation in the second half after the teams played close through the first 20-25 minutes. In the SCIAC finals, CMS took a 6-5 lead early in the fourth, before a 5-0 Sagehen run led them to the title. The Stags have not played MIT this season, should those two teams meet on the second day.