Princeton Men’s Water Polo Falls in CWPA Final; As Superb Campaign Ends with Disappointment
After suffering an 11-9 loss to St. Francis in the 2013 CWPA (Collegiate Water Polo Association) championship game, the Princeton University men’s water polo team seemed poised to take the next step this fall.
Coming into this year’s CWPA tourney last weekend at Navy, Princeton was 21-3, ranked No. 8 in the country, and riding a ten-game winning streak.
“I thought we had momentum,” said Princeton head coach Luis Nicolao. “It was the first weekend all year where we were all healthy and had a full squad. We were confident but we knew it was going to be tough.”
Princeton played with confidence and showed toughness as it topped Johns Hopkins 18-5 in the quarterfinals.
“It was a great start, we played well in all facets of the game,” said Nicolao, who got four goals from junior Thomas Nelson in the win with freshman Jordan Colina adding three. “We got the attack going and we had a great defensive effort. We showed we were ready and prepared.”
The Tigers produced another great effort as they edged host Navy 6-3 in the semis.
“It was the typical Princeton-Navy game; it was really intense and very physical,” said Nicolao, a Navy water polo star in his college days.
“We got up early and we were able to hold on with some good defense. It was a great game, it was a great environment.”
In the championship game against Brown, the Tigers fell down early and couldn’t get over the hump as they dropped a 7-6 nailbiter to fall just short of earning a bid to the NCAA tournament.
“We knew they were really good; they had a great game plan and they played really well,” said Nicolao.
“We didn’t play well, we didn’t execute. We made mistakes and fell behind 3-0. We had to grind it the whole game. We got it to 5-5 but we never got the lead. We just weren’t able to capitalize on opportunities. Things didn’t click, balls weren’t falling for us. We still had a chance to win but we didn’t find the back of the net. Brown played a great game, I was impressed by them.”
While the season-ending loss stung, Nicolao was impressed by what his players achieved this fall as they went 23-4.
“We really had a great year; we lost only four games and we were ranked in the top 10 most of the year,” said Nicolao.
“In our sport, it comes down to one game and we didn’t win. It is hard to think about it right now but in time, the players will realize we had a great season.”
The team’s group of seniors made a great impact on the program. “They are going to be missed,” said Nicolao, whose Class of 2015 includes Drew Hoffenberg, Sam Butler, Kayj Shannon, and Kevin Zhang.
“We went to three CWPA championship games in their four years. I will take that from every class. They fought hard, they gave us their all, and they made us relevant.”
In Nicolao’s view, the Tigers will continue to be relevant on the national scene.
“We have a great returning group, we have a lot of good pieces,” said Nicolao, who will welcome back such stars as junior Jamie Kuprenas, sophomore Jovan Jeremic, freshman Connor McGoldrick, freshman Vojislav Mitrovic, in addition to Nelson and Colina.
“I hope we have a chip on our shoulder. We are the first Princeton team to lose two CWPA championship games back-to-back. I hope that gives them a little extra motivation. It is a matter of us doing what we have to do, working hard in the offseason and coming back in great shape. The goal is always to get to the CWPA finals and see what happens. It takes some luck and we didn’t have that yesterday.”