Late season improvements key for Athenas' postseason run

Jessica Gaffney - Photo by Mitch Allan
Jessica Gaffney - Photo by Mitch Allan

CLAREMONT, Calif. – After finishing fifth in the Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference regular season, the Claremont-Mudd-Scripps women's water polo team is itching to take the top spot at the SCIAC Tournament, hosted by the University of La Verne. The Athenas endured a long and challenging season, facing several tough Division I schools like Princeton and Brown, and learned more about their strengths and weaknesses as the season progressed. Now is the time for the team to put it all together, starting with an opening round matchup against No. 4 Cal Lutheran on Friday, April 21 at 2:15 p.m.

The Athenas went 9-18 this season and 3-5 in conference play. After losing a nail-biter 10-8 against Chapman last year in the opening round of the SCIAC Tournament, CMS went on to beat Occidental and Cal Lutheran to finish in fifth place. Retaining most of the key players from last season, the Athenas are confident that their young yet experienced group can exceed expectations in this year's tournament.

"We are hoping to come together this weekend with our best effort and fight for every inch of every game," said head coach Greg Lonzo. "We have made some great strides in the last few weeks and I am hoping that everything clicks this weekend and we can shake up the tournament."

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Junior Roxy Kiessling (CMC) has been a steady force on the offensive end, leading the Athenas with 51 goals, including 18 in SCIAC. Her ability to score in various ways, whether it is a backhand shot or laser from distance, has kept CMS in games throughout the season. Playing alongside Kiessling, junior Jessica Gaffney (CMC) has done a solid job as the lead attacker, scoring 48 goals this season. CMS has relied on Gaffney to be in the right place at the right time to score and the junior has shown a knack of converting one-on-one opportunities with composure. Another 

On the defensive end, the Athenas will rely on the ever-versatile sophomore Claire Baxter (CMC) to use her speed to cover the opposing attackers, leading the team with 31 steals. Baxter has also been a valuable attacking option, scoring 18 goals this season. Sophomores Emma Choy (CMC) and Kaitlyn Eng (HMC) have provided steady coverage in the middle and back line of the pool, as well as make key outlet passes to the attackers to set them up for easy goals.

Cal Lutheran will provide a challenge for the Athenas. The Regals have won three of their last four games with their only loss in that time span coming in double overtime against Pomona-Pitzer. Led by Nicole Roed who has 38 goals under her wing and Victoria Rose Meek, who scored 28, Cal Lutheran will need all the offensive help it can get to match its tenacious defense. The Regals have hung in close with SCIAC leaders Whittier College and Pomona-Pitzer, losing by only one goal in their meetings with those two teams. With saves leader Bailey Meyer in front of the net and a tenacious defense that can throw the best offenses off their game, Cal Lutheran will force opposing teams to grind through each game.

No. 1 seeded Whittier College (17-14, 8-0) is riding on a wave of confidence, not only going undefeated in SCIAC play, but also is coming off a seven-game winning streak, including a 12-10 victory over Division I Cal State Northridge. The Poets feature a high octane offense with three players who scored more than 40 goals: Isabella Gorrocino (56), Jenel Rivera (47), and Zyania Morales (42). Katia Montoya has been one of the best goalkeepers in the SCIAC, boasting 162 saves so far. Pomona-Pitzer (14-18, 7-1) will enter the SCIAC Tournament as the no. 2 seed and has done a solid job in sharing the ball and involving everyone on offense. Despite boasting only one player who netted 40 goals, the Sagehens have managed to find ways to win by providing enough wins to edge out opponents. Key playmakers like Natalie Hill and Jocelyn Castro will be relied upon to make sure the Sagehens run like a well-oiled machine.

Parking at the tournament may be found on Bolling Avenue and surrounding streets. The parking lot adjacent to the pool will be available only to team vans, officials, staff and SCAIC administrators who have reserved a spot in advance. Entrance to the tournament is free for students, faculty, and staff with ID while all others will be charged $10 per day at the door. Military and senior citizens will be discounted at $5 and children under the age of 12 will be admitted for free.

Tournament Info

By Young Kim
Sports Information Assistant

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