Molly McBee thrives under pressure, feeling that high-stakes contests have brought out the best in her as she has starred for the Princeton University women’s water polo team.
“In my way of playing, I step up in big games,” said senior co-captain McBee. “There is an excitement, I don’t feel as tired.”
As Princeton faced Indiana last Sunday in the CWPA (Collegiate Water Polo Association) title game with a bid to the NCAA tournament on the line, McBee showed her clutch gene, scoring a team-high three goals.
While McBee’s heroics weren’t enough as the top-seeded Hoosiers edged second-seeded Princeton 11-10, she gained some satisfaction from leaving it all in the pool.
“I was pleased with the way I played; I did all I could,” said McBee, who earned second-team All-Tournament honors in her final weekend with the Tigers. “I have a little more peace of mind because I felt like I brought it all to the table.”
McBee was not pleased to see Princeton come up short as it ended a superb spring at 31-2, setting program single-season records for most wins and fewest losses.
“We let it slip away,” said McBee, noting that Princeton jumped out to a 4-0 lead over Indiana.
“I was definitely feeling good, we were playing well. I knew we would come out strong even before the game. They had some goals here or there and we had some mistakes here or there. The last goal was a heartbreaker, it barely went in.”
It was heartbreaking for the Tigers to miss out on a third straight trip to the NCAAs.
“We had produced a high level of play in other games and against some big teams,” said McBee, a native of Palos Verdes, Calif.
“I was not ready to be done with this sport. It would have been great to have a few more games and to go to Southern California where I am from and where a lot of my teammates are from.”
While her final season ended earlier than McBee had hoped, she won’t soon forget the bonds forged this spring.
“It is just the friendships that develop on a team like that; we have such a huge travel schedule,” said McBee, a team co-captain along with classmate and fellow Californian Katie Rigler.
“We are together on the road most weekends. This year, I couldn’t have asked for a better group of girls. We are really all best friends; it is awesome.”
Princeton head coach Luis Nicolao desperately wanted his girls to keep playing. “I am depressed; it was a brutal loss, we made one too many mistakes,” said Nicolao.
“We let a 4-0 lead slip away. We made turnovers that led to fast breaks and made it hard on Ashleigh (sophomore goalie Ashleigh Johnson). It was a nailbiter, back and forth. Sometimes they go your way and sometimes they don’t. We had two or three 6-on-5s in the last three minutes and and we didn’t score. It was just the way things fell.”
Nicolao was thrilled with the way McBee played in her final action with the Tigers.
“Molly McBee probably had the best weekend of anyone on the team,” asserted Nicolao of McBee, who ended the season with 49 goals and 36 assists.
“She was good in all the games and really deserved to be first-team all tournament.”
Although the defeat to Indiana stung, it couldn’t undo all the good things Princeton accomplished in its record-breaking campaign.
“My main message was that one game doesn’t define a season,” said Nicolao.
“We were 31-2. That is a great year and I would take that record every year. We had great balance from top to bottom, everyone contributed. Ashleigh is a great player and we played good defense in front of her. We had great chemistry and we were able to win a lot of close games. We just didn’t win that last one.”
The longtime coach credited senior stars McBee and Rigler with setting a great example. “They have had great careers,” said Nicolao. “They won two Eastern (CWPA) titles and they are leaving a great legacy.”
Looking forward, Nicolao is confident that next year’s team will add to the legacy established by McBee and Rigler.
“We have a lot of talent coming back and some freshmen on the way who should help,” said Nicolao who welcomes back All-America goalie Johnson along with such offensive threats as Diana Murphy (46 goals in 2014), Ashley Hatcher (53 goals), Taylor Dunstan (19 goals), Morgan Hallock (18 goals), Pippa Temple (33 goals), Hannah Lapkin (17 goals), Kimi Klein (22 goals), Jesse Holechek (42 goals), and Kelly Gross (16 goals).
“Some of our best seasons have come after tough losses. I think they will work that much harder to make sure this doesn’t happen again.”
For McBee, the hard work over the last years in and out of the pool had been more than worth it.
“The sport itself is great, getting away from the academics,” said McBee, who will be working in IT consulting for a firm in Dallas, Texas after graduation.
“It is a balancing act. I was writing my thesis during the season and captaining the team. You get a break from school, you go to the pool with your friends and you have a physical activity and it is the only thing you think about for those two hours. It is another passion. We have so much fun with this team and our coaches.”