By ANDREW STEELE
The No. 12 women’s water polo team will begin a three-game home stand at DeNunzio Pool this weekend against conference opponents. The Tigers (17-5 overall, 2-0 CWPA Southern) open against Mercyhurst, whom they defeated last year at home and at the Harvard Invitational by scores of 10-2 and 9-5. Hoping to end their regular season on a high note, they take on Harvard later that evening and Bucknell on Sunday.
Princeton has not lost to the Crimson (13-10, 2-1) since 2004 and leads the all-time series 30-11. The Tigers overcame Harvard at home earlier this year in an 11-7 decision. They also hold a substantial edge over their Sunday opponents, leading Bucknell (4-14, 1-2) in the series 32-5.
Junior utility Katie Rigler, the squad’s leading scorer, is optimistic about the weekend’s matches; at this point in the year, however, the team has its sights set on the NCAA Championship tournament, which they made last year for the first time in program history.
“Of course we want to win, since it’s the last game for the seniors at home,” she said. “But the games we’re mostly worried about are Easterns and Southerns [Championship Tournaments]. I think we have a way better chance to win than we did last year. Last year was kind of a surprise to everyone. We knew we had it in ourselves. But it’s definitely tougher going in looking to defend your title.”
Rigler, last year’s Eastern Championship MVP, notes that late-season form has contributed to past success and should bring success this postseason.
“We’re really consistent at the end [of the season],” she said.
She also mentioned that Ivy League restrictions on practice time can affect the season’s conclusion:
“Other teams like Michigan and Indiana have been practicing since September. By the end they’re burned out. We’re just starting, still excited and pumped to be playing.”
Expectations have been high for this standout squad, and NCAA rankings reflect its place among the nation’s best. In fact, Princeton is the sole team from the East Coast ranked in the country’s top 15.
Once this weekend’s slate of games has concluded, the team will turn its full attention to the upcoming CWPA Southern and Eastern Championships. Last year, the Tigers emerged on top in both competitions to earn their NCAA tournament berth. However, a first round loss to USC took the team out of title contention.
“It’s time to overcome the losses we had in the beginning of the season and show that we’re a better team,” freshman goalie Ashleigh Johnson said.
Johnson, who has started every game in her first year, set a program record for saves in a single game in her first collegiate contest, a hard-fought loss to then-No. 4 Cal. She added that the team knows what it wants to accomplish this weekend.
“We’ve introduced some new plays and we want to master them,” she said. “We want to show that our offense is something to be contended with. Before, we haven’t really had our offense going. But lately in practice we’ve really been clicking.”
The action starts at DeNunzio Pool at 1:30 p.m. Saturday, when the Tigers take the pool against Mercyhurst (12-8 overall, 0-3 CWPA) and continues that evening at 7 p.m. when Princeton plays Harvard. The regular season finale against Bucknell begins at 11 a.m. Sunday.