Jack of all trades
Pomona-Pitzer's Woodward can play offense, defense
BOSTON -- In the eight-team field at the 2013 NC Women’s Water Polo Championship, there might be a greater disparity in the talent between the top seeds than ever before.
The youngest squad in the field is eighth-seeded Pomona-Pitzer. Coached by Alex Rodriguez, the Sagehens have the fewest number of players on their roster with just 13. Already undermanned, Pomona-Pitzer features a team of just one senior, one junior and 11 underclassmen.
Competing in Division III athletics, the Sagehens are the only team at Boston’s championship that is not a member of DI sports.
Pomona-Pitzer’s best player, sophomore Alyssa Woodward, is a primary example of how much work and effort it takes to reach the tournament.
After playing the field in her early days of water polo, Woodward converted into a goalie in ninth grade to fulfill a need on her team’s roster.
Fast forward to Woodward’s senior season, her team was in the rebuilding process. As one of just two seniors on the squad, she felt she could contribute more if she played in the field. She convinced both her college and club coaches – her club coach being Rodriguez -- to move her out of the net.
The change turned out to be the right decision. Woodward reunited with Rodriguez at Pomona-Pitzer and has led the Sagehens in scoring the past two seasons.
“There are things Alyssa [Woodward] does in the field that I don’t know how she learned them,” Rodriguez said.
“[Woodward] is probably the best player in our conference. She goes up and down with her confidence, but she has everything. She can set, shoot and defend. She is a great field blocker.”
Woodward put her abilities on display in Sunday’s seventh-place game against DI Iona. Trailing 12-8 with 4:44 to go, she led a comeback and eventually tied the game at 12 with 46 seconds to go. Fellow goalie and field player, Sallie Walecka, notched the game-winning goal as time expired to give the Sagehens the improbable win.
Avenging its overtime loss against the Gaels in the same consolation game from a year ago, Pomona-Pitzer is pleased to get a win under its belt and end the year on a high note.
“We’re not here to win a national championship,” Rodriguez said. “We are here for the experience.”
Rodriguez admits that some of his girls were a little star struck when they arrived at Blodgett Pool on Friday.
“In the tough game versus USC, I called a timeout in the fourth quarter and one of my girls came over and said, ‘We only have a certain amount of time to play against these girls. There are Olympians on the other side. What an opportunity!’ I thought that was part of the magic of being in that match,” Rodriguez said.
After capturing a consecutive SCIAC conference title and making its second tournament appearance in as many seasons, the Sagehens can look ahead with great confidence in the direction of their program.
“Throughout the season, coach [Rodriguez] matches up against teams like UCLA and these top teams,” Woodward said. “He schedules us to play Division I schools all of the time. Playing in our SCIAC and being [at the tournament] are two different ballgames.”
Going forward, Rodriguez joked about putting Woodward back in goal after this season, with lone senior and starting goalkeeper Sarah Tuggy graduating at year’s end. He confidently said that he believes Woodward would be the best goalie in their conference if she decided to do so.
Rodriguez will ride the momentum of his most versatile player as she continues to improve in all aspects of her game.