SCIAC Champs! CMS Men's Water Polo Uses Dominant Second Half to Take League Title
CLAREMONT, Calif. - After trailing 3-2 at the half, the CMS men's water polo team scored on its first four possessions of the second half and went on to take a 9-4 win over Redlands in the SCIAC Postseason Tournament Finals on Sunday afternoon at Axelrood Pool.
With the win, CMS moves to 22-7 on the year, heading into the USA Water Polo Division III Championships on Dec. 2-3 at Augustana College in Rock Island, Illinois. Redlands, which tied CMS for the regular season title at 11-1 (with each team winning by one goal in its home pool) will also be attending and the two teams could meet again in the national finals on Dec. 3.
Senior goalie Aidan Nettekoven had six saves for CMS to earn SCIAC Most Outstanding Performer honors, while seniors Kyle Ballack, Cristian Pang and Eli Schwarz each had two goals, with seniors accounting for seven of the nine Stag tallies on the day. It marks the first league title for the Stags since 2015, and the 27th in program history.
The first two meetings between the two teams came right down to the wire, with Nick Kennedy winning the first meeting at Axelrood Pool 9-8 on a goal with two seconds left and Redlands winning the rematch at home last Saturday 12-11 on a sudden-death overtime goal from Spencer Sellwood.
The script seemed to be going the same way, as the teams played to a near defensive standstill in the first half, with Redlands taking a 3-2 lead into the break on a goal from Andrew Higginson with 33 seconds left. CMS didn't score until the second quarter, when Cristian Pang got loose in transition to score with 4:42 left in the half and make the score 2-1. Jeffrey Koretz scored an equalizer just over two minutes later.
The second half, though, saw the Stags put together arguably its most impressive 16 minutes of water polo all season, outscoring Redlands 7-1 and coming away with the 9-4 win. The Stags came right out of the locker room with four goals in a span of 2:48 to take a 6-3 lead. Gavin Rosser started the run 28 seconds in, and Ballack scored two goals 31 seconds apart to make the score 5-3 with 6:08 left in the third. After another stop, Schwarz scored his first to make it 6-3.
Schwarz scored again with 1:39 left in the third to stretch the lead to 7-3, before Max Wagener scored what would turn out to be the only goal of the half for Redlands at the 1:39 mark. Pang came right back 21 seconds later to make it 8-4, and the Stags successful sat back in a defensive posture the rest of the way, with Kennedy scoring the only goal of the fourth quarter as CMS took the 9-4 win.
With the SCIAC title in hand, CMS will next try to win its first USA Water Polo Division III title after finishing as a close runner-up in 2019 and 2021 in the first two years of the tournament. The Stags dropped a 5-3 contest to Whittier in 2019 and then fell in overtime to Pomona-Pitzer in 2021, while Redlands earned the title last year over Cal Lutheran.