November 30, 2011
Princeton University Women's Basketball

RESERVE STRENGTH: Princeton University women’s basketball player Megan Bowen drives to the hoop in a game last winter. Junior reserve center Bowen has provided the Tigers with a big spark off the bench, averaging 8.5 points a game and 3.0 rebounds a game. The Tigers, now 6-0, host No. 24 Delaware on December 1 before playing at Maryland-Baltimore County on December 3.

Megan Bowen admits to being a project when she joined the Princeton University women’s basketball team in 2009.

“I came in freshman year and I wasn’t ready for the collegiate level,” said the 6’3 Bowen, a native of Bath, Pa.

“It was a learning process for me. I defend Devona Allgood in practice everyday; that’s naturally going to make you a better player. You can only take Devona’s hook shot in your face so many times until you learn to defend it.”

Bowen rarely left the bench that winter, playing 88 minutes in 20 appearances and scoring 33 points. As a sophomore, Bowen proved she could succeed at the college level, getting into 25 games and tallying 136 points.

“I take pride that I have gotten better to help Devona everyday,” said Bowen. reflecting on her progress. “We need people who are going to challenge our starters. I take pride in coming off the bench and having that energy.”

Last Friday in a 53-44 win over visiting Davidson, Bowen provided a spark in 13 minutes off the bench, scoring six points with two rebounds and an assist.

“I am in my junior year so I know what coach wants; she wants you to bring in energy,” said Bowen.

“I think everyone was trying; it was a great team effort. We pulled out the win so that is what is important. We have to just keep growing from it.”

Bowen and her teammates have put in extra effort to help their growth. “I think it is putting the extra time in with coach [Melanie] Moore,” said Bowen, who is averaging 8.5 points a game.

“You do a lot in practice but coach only really has 2½ hours. Getting the extra time is great, I think our whole team has been doing that. Niveen [Rasheed] has been working on 3-point shots. It wasn’t something that was huge in her game when she came here but she puts in the extra time on the shot.”

Missing some time due to a concussion had Bowen fired up to get back in action against Davidson.

“I had a concussion; I took an elbow to the head in practice,” said Bowen, who was sidelined two games as a result of the injury. “I passed the concussion test this morning and got clearance. The doctor looked at it and I was good to go this afternoon.”

Princeton head coach Courtney Banghart was happy to have Bowen back.

“It was great; she is a competitive kid,” said Banghart of Bowen, who had another strong game Sunday, scoring 10 points with four rebounds and three assists as Princeton topped Rider 75-55 to improve to 6-0.

“She takes a lot of pride in her position and being a spark off the bench. I think her rhythm was a little bit off because she has been out for a week. She has been a big bright spot for our team, for sure.”

Another bright spot for the Tigers has been the return of junior star Niveen Rasheed from a knee injury in last year’s Davidson game that sidelined her for most of last season.

“I think the greatest part about Niveen is that she always plays at that level with that speed, that pace, that desire, that competitive fire,” asserted Banghart of Rasheed who is averaging a team-high 17.7 points per game.

“Whether at practice or a game, it doesn’t matter. She has always been able to change the game on her own very quickly. When you take that away from her, i.e., put her on the bench, she has had to learn the game. She still has that ability to create and change the game instantly but now she understands the game a little bit better so I think she will just continue to get better.”

Utilizing a high pressure approach, the Tigers have gotten better on the defensive end.

“We are way better defensively because we are way better athletically,” maintained Banghart, whose team is giving up just 50.0 points a game and has held foes to 35.2 percent shooting from the floor.

“We are very versatile; we can switch all over the floor, we can trap. These guys have really bought in to being disruptive, both over 94 feet and the quarter court. We challenge every shot, so defensively, we are just giving people fits. If we can buy into that same poise on the offensive end, we’ll be really good.”

With two-time defending Ivy League champion Princeton now getting votes in the ESPN coaches’ poll and Associated Press media poll, the rest of the country is getting the idea that these Tigers are really good.

“I think the neat thing about that is that it shows that other people are taking notice,” said Banghart, whose team has a chance to turn more heads when it hosts No. 24 Delaware on December 1.

“I told them after the Marist game [a 68-51 win] that we are writing our own story with this group. The people in the room are what matters. It would be great for the Ivy League to have a team in the Top 25. It would be great for this team to to be recognized nationally for their efforts.”

Bowen, for her part, believes the Tigers can make an impact on the national scene.

“Coach gave us a hard schedule but we prepared for a hard schedule,” said Bowen.

“It gives you confidence going into Stanford, DePaul, Delaware, and those bigger games. I think a few years ago, this program would have looked at playing Stanford as a nice way to get another game in where you will have a lot of media and a big crowd. Now we are looking at Stanford saying they are a great team but we want to have a chance.”

Princeton University Men's Water Polo

YOUNG BUCH: Princeton University men’s water polo star Kurt Buchbinder fires the ball in a game earlier this season. Sophomore Buchbinder has scored 17 goals this season to help No. 14 Princeton advance to the NCAA Final Four this weekend at Berkeley, Calif.

Even though the Princeton University men’s water polo team dropped five of six games on its annual California swing earlier this season, Luis Nicolao saw signs that his squad could play with the best in the college game.

“We had some competitive games; it helped us a lot,” said head coach Nicolao, whose team beat Long Beach State 8-4 and suffered a pair of two-goal losses to Loyola Marymount and a tight 11-7 defeat to UC Davis. “With the youthfulness of the team, we tried some things.”

Upon its return to New Jersey in early October, the Tigers did plenty of good things as it took second in the Southern Championships and then won the Eastern Championships.

By virtue of taking the Eastern crown, Princeton earned a return engagement to California where it will play in the NCAA Final Four this weekend at Berkeley.

The 14th-ranked Tigers, now 21-9, will play top-seeded and three-time defending national champion USC (22-3) on December 3 in one semifinal with UC San Diego meeting UCLA in the other semifinal.

The winners of the semis will play for the title on Sunday while the losers will face each other in the third-place game.

In order to make it back west, Princeton had to overcome a tough Navy team that beat the Tigers 10-5 in the Southern Championships.

While that result was disappointing, Nicolao wasn’t discouraged. “After watching the video of that game, we saw things we could fix,” said Nicolao.

“One guy scored six goals and we had some mental breakdowns. Coming off that loss, we felt if we were fortunate enough to play Navy in the Easterns, we could do some things to win.”

Nicolao acknowledges that his team was fortunate to edge No. 16 St Francis 13-11 in overtime in the Eastern semis.

“That was a gift; we had no business winning that game,” said Nicolao. “We were down three with three minutes left. Things fell our way. Drew [Hoffenberg] played great; Ben [Dearborn] had a big game in goal. We got some breaks.”

That victory set up the rematch with No. 15 Navy in the Eastern title game. “I always tell the guys that the toughest game is the semis on Saturday night,” said Nicolao.

“The season is on the line. Once you get into finals, anything can happen and you can play your game.”

Princeton was able to play its game as it pulled away to a 10-7 win over the Midshipmen.

“We made sure we had the right matchups,” explained Nicolao, who got three goals in the title game from Hoffenberg with Dearborn making 14 saves.

“We knew the two or three guys that we didn’t want to beat us and we shadowed that side of the pool. We shot the ball well. We got up 2-0, 3-1, and then they tied it at 3-3. We ran off five straight goals. Once you get a three-goal lead, so much changes. You are able to take some chances.”

Seizing the chance to win a second Eastern title in the last three years was special for Nicolao, who is in his 14th season guiding the Tigers.

“It was a great feeling; it is a great group of guys,” said Nicolao. “We had it under control, we were able to enjoy it.”

Nicolao has enjoyed this fall, blending a superb group of precocious freshmen with a core of battle-tested veterans.

Freshmen Hoffenberg (43 goals), Matt Weber (44 goals), Kayj Shannon (35 goals) and Thomas Nelson (28 goals) have made an immediate impact while such veterans as junior Tim Wenzlau (38 goals), senior Mike Helou (28 goals), senior Chris Cottrell (16 goals), junior Tommy Donahue (18 goals) and sophomore Kurt Buchbinder (17 goals) have provided stability.

“The young guys added a little swagger and we have great balance,” said Nicolao.

“We have six guys with around 30 goals. We don’t have to rely on a couple of guys.”

With the Tigers having hosted the NCAAs in 2009 and edging Loyola Marymount 6-5 in the third-place game, Princeton does have some national tournament experience upon which to rely.

“We talked about that,” said Nicolao, referring to the 2009 tourney. “The juniors and seniors have played in this; they know what this is like. We have nothing to lose; we want to show our stuff.”

As the Tigers look to thrive on their second trip to California, Nicolao is planning to use the blueprint that former Princeton men’s basketball coach Pete Carril perfected to bedevil foes on the national stage.

“We need to take care of the ball,” said Nicolao. “We can’t make turnovers or let them get on fastbreaks. We have to keep it 6-on-6. We can’t get into a shootout. We have to control the tempo and slow the game down.”