Katie Rigler got an eye-opening experience this fall in preparing for her senior season with the Princeton University women’s water polo team.
The Fullerton, Calif. native took part in the USA Water Polo Futures 50 Classic and had to push herself to keep up with the nation’s elite.
“It was tough, it was a very good reminder of what I needed to work toward,” said Rigler.
“I saw what players from other college teams were doing and how hard they were working.”
Developing some extra toughness from the experience, the high-scoring Rigler has helped Princeton solidify its standing as one of the top college teams in the country as the Tigers have gone 29-1 this spring and are ranked 11th nationally.
This weekend, Princeton heads to Bucknell to compete for the CWPA title and an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament.
With the Tigers having won the 2013 CWPA crown on the way to going 28-6 and taking a program-best fifth at the NCAA tourney, Rigler had the sense that this year’s team would be a force to be reckoned with.
“I think we are even better than we were last year,” said Rigler. “It is encouraging and a little scary because we know we have a target on our backs. There is a lot of pressure on us as well.”
In Rigler’s view, the squad possesses a potent blend of chemistry and skill. “I think this is the most positive team I have been on,” asserted Rigler, Princeton’s leading scorer this season with 62 goals and 27 assists. “We have a strong, hardworking team, the recruiting classes get better every year so we are getting more talented.”
As a team co-captain along with classmate Molly McBee, Rigler strives to set a positive tone for the Tigers.
“I try to set a good example,” said Rigler, a two-time Southern Division Player of the Year who now has 260 goals and 69 assists in her career. “I try to be very encouraging. I try to keep things relaxed at practice. My teammates know that come game time, I am extremely serious.”
As Rigler has matured, she has gotten more serious about her training.
“I don’t have statistical goals; I have practice goals,” said Rigler. “I want to work hard on sets and different skills. I also want to get into the pool more and more. There is never a year where I haven’t felt in good swimming shape so I work more on water polo drills.”
Princeton’s lone loss this season, a 10-6 defeat to No. 10 San Jose State on March 15, helped the Tigers ratchet up their work ethic down the stretch of the regular season.
“We weren’t working as hard as we should be; we didn’t play well against UC-San Diego and Michigan but we still won,” said Rigler.
“I think the loss to San Jose State was good. It made us re-evaluate what we needed to do and where we wanted to go. We don’t want to just be good on the east coast. It is important to have the confidence that we can compete with the teams out west.”
Gaining more confidence in her teammates has helped Rigler set a career single-season high in assists this spring.
“As the years have gone by, I am getting more attention from the other teams,” said Rigler, whose previous season-high in assists was 15. “As the team has gotten more talented, I can rely on my other teammates to score.”
As the Tigers prepare for the CWPA tourney, they are paying attention to the basics.
“We are working on our play in 6-on-5 situations; that is important and we are focusing in on that,” said Rigler, who came up big as Princeton defeated Brown 11-4 in the Southern Division championship game, tallying five goals and two assists in the April 13 contest.
“It is also working on mental focus, trying to get everybody on the same track and the same page and making sure the girls all know their roles. We try to tell the freshmen what its about, how exciting the games are. It can seem like an out of body experience and you have to stay calm. We have been behind in the semis for the last two years and we have learned that you can’t give up.”
Having been seeded second behind Indiana at the CWPA, Princeton is fired up about its chances to earn a title repeat.
“We are definitely confident,” said Rigler, noting that the Tigers boast seven player with 20 or more goals. “We are using the disrespect angle as motivation with the way the seeds came out. We are hoping we get to play Indiana in the final.”
No matter how Princeton does in the final days of her career, things have turned out better than Rigler could have hoped when she came east four years ago.
“It’s been an unreal experience, meeting all the different girls and getting to know the different personalities,” said Rigler, who is looking to play professional water polo overseas after graduation, potentially in Italy or Greece.
“The experiences I have had with Molly [McBee] are great, we have become really close friends. Playing sports in college builds up your discipline and patience.”