Women's Water Polo: No. 10 Tigers head to California for playoff showdowns
The NCAA Championships is a single-elimination tournament, but each of the eight teams is guaranteed to play three games in order to determine the third, fifth and seventh-place finishers. Should the Tigers lose to USC, Princeton will face the loser of Iona’s game against University of California, Los Angeles in its second game. Princeton beat Iona 13-5 earlier this year in DeNunzio Pool.
The trip to nationals caps off a winning season, as the Tigers went 28-4 and were undefeated in the Southern Division. Unlike in previous years, Princeton carried its early season success into the CWPA Eastern Championships, where the Tigers won all three of their games to capture the title and their ticket to nationals.
“It was an amazing weekend. I think everything just really came together the way we knew it should if we played well,” junior center Saranna Soroka said. “It was our team goal from the beginning of the year and we worked hard to make it happen, and it paid off.”
Winning Easterns, not an easy task for the Tigers, could prepare the team for the stiff competition that it will face in San Diego. To receive the automatic bid, Princeton had to get through Maryland, which had just knocked off top-seeded Michigan and had beaten the Tigers earlier in the year. The Terrapins had also eliminated Princeton in last year’s tournament, but the Tigers returned the favor with a 7-6 win in the Eastern championship game.
Princeton enters the tournament riding a seven-game winning streak and ranked 10th in the nation, its highest ranking of the season. Yet the Tigers will be going in as the underdog against their first opponent, USC (21-5). The Tigers are seeded sixth, while the Trojans are seeded third. In practice this week, the team worked on preparing for USC’s press defense.
“To pull off a win against the Trojans, we will need to withstand their hard press and counter-attack. They have a strong team, and it is going to be a challenge,” senior center defender Audrey Zak said in an email.
Princeton will look to keep USC’s Kaleigh Gilchrist at bay, as she leads her team’s offense with 43 goals. The Tigers will also have to find the back of the net against goalie Flora Bolonyai, who boasts a .620 save percentage. To do this, Princeton will look to sophomore utility Katie Rigler, the Southern Division Player of the Year, who is the team leader in goals with 69 on the season.
However, the Tigers will need an all-around team effort to defeat the Trojans as that is what has propelled them to their wins this season.
“I think that we have been so successful throughout the year and in Easterns because of our depth and because everyone has the ability to contribute,” junior attack Rachele Gyorffy said.
Princeton’s six freshmen are a big reason for this depth, as they have combined for 139 out of 351 of the Tigers’ goals this season. They have also contributed on the defensive end, producing 45 percent of the team’s total steals.
“[The Trojans] are definitely going to be a tough competitor. They have been training all year. We are only allowed to start at the beginning of January, so they had a tougher preseason to play,” freshman utility Jessie Holechek said. “But I think if we keep up what we are doing and play at a high level and not back down, we can do very well against them.”