If you were to consider sophomore attacker Drew Hoffenberg’s first season playing collegiate water polo, it would seem that he never leaves the pool. Last year as a freshman, the attacker put up 47 goals, 36 assists, 11 blocks and drew 41 ejections, leading Princeton to a third-place finish at the NCAA Championships.
But don’t be too quick to call him a fish out of water when he makes it out of the pool and onto land.
“I’m just kind of slow. I’m pretty coordinated though, I guess,” Hoffenberg said.
This year, the returning sophomore is on track to shatter last season’s incredible performance that earned him a spot on the NCAA.com Players to Watch List with that very coordination that seems to thrive in the pool. Hoffenberg leads his team with 44 goals, just three shy of his total 47 last year, with just over a month of play remaining for the No. 16 Tigers.
The San Diego native’s water polo success started off a bit backward. When Hoffenberg began playing water polo in fourth grade, he didn’t even know how to swim, though the opposite is true for most players entering the sport. But apparently it worked. A year later, he made a decision to exclusively play competitive water polo.
“In like fifth grade, I had to choose whether I wanted to play football, basketball or water polo because they’re all the same season,” Hoffenberg said. “So then I chose water polo, and that was like the defining moment where I picked that as my sport.”
The decision paid off. Attending high school at The Bishop’s School, Hoffenberg became captain of the water polo and swim teams his junior and senior years and led the team to the California Interscholastic Federation title in both 2008 and 2010. Hoffenberg was awarded the 2010 Western Conference Player of the Year Award and was a second-team High School All-America selection that same year, after having spent 2008 and 2009 as a member of the U.S. Junior National Team.
Despite the success that Hoffenberg had playing in high school, he found the transition to collegiate play somewhat intimidating.
“It was definitely a high level of play before, but now coming to college it’s different, because everyone’s so much bigger, everyone’s so much faster,” Hoffenberg said.
During his first match as a Tiger — against Santa Clara — Hoffenberg was in for a rude awakening regarding the level of collegiate play.
“It was [my] first game ever,” Hoffenberg said. “There was one play in the game where they called a TV timeout, and I had the ball, and I was really confused. I had no idea what they were doing; they just stopped in the middle of the game and I was just like staring at the ref.”
But examining the honors that Hoffenberg earned as a freshman, it seems that playing water polo for Princeton wasn’t anything less than natural. He became the first student-athlete in the league’s history to be named both Rookie of the Year and earn the MVP award at the Eastern Championships in the same year. Add that to earning NCAA All-Tournament Second Team, First Team All-Eastern Tournament, Second Team All-South and All-America Honorable Mention, and it’s hard to believe that Hoffenberg ever had any nerves at all.
Hoffenberg’s position as a driver is crucial in water polo to both offense and defense.
“My role is just to like drive a lot, move, draw ejections, get open, get other people open, make passes where I need to make passes and play great defense,” Hoffenberg said.
Because water polo is such a high contact sport, placing players at an increased risk for head injury, Hoffenberg credits his West Coast water polo upbringing for helping to keep him concussion-free.
“You really get a feel for when people are going to hit you, so you can really watch out and know how to take a hit,” Hoffenberg said.
Though Hoffenberg knows how to take a hit, he won’t admit to partaking in water polo’s well known fouling.
“I’m the nicest guy in the water,” he said. “I don’t do anything bad.”
Hoffenberg, a country music and cat lover whose own pet name, “Kobe,” showcases his affinity for the Lakers, also differs from his team in pre-game rituals. While his teammates like to dance and sing to music, Hoffenberg enjoys meditating and practicing yoga before games — something seemingly foreign to water polo players.
“I’m not very good at yoga. I don’t even know what I’m doing but no one else knows what yoga is either, so it just looks like I’m doing stuff,” Hoffenberg said.
Also foreign to Hoffenberg was being compared to some of the biggest names in the sport. He described being named to NCAA All-Tournament as one of his greatest athletic accomplishments.
“Those other guys are the top players in college,” Hoffenberg said. “I knew them all; I grew up playing them all, and it’s like people talk about them, and being named right below them is pretty cool.”
Hoffenberg once again proved key to Princeton’s offense in last weekend’s series of home games. The Tigers (10-10 overall, 4-3 CWPA Southern) suffered two heartbreaking losses, first losing 14-13 in an overtime thriller against No. 14 Navy and then losing 10-9 to Bucknell after a slow start. However, they separated the losses with a decisive 14-6 victory over Johns Hopkins. Hoffenberg scored nine of Princeton’s 36 total weekend goals.
In Princeton’s next match against Iona on Saturday at 5 p.m. in DeNunzio Pool, Hoffenberg will have his chance to surpass his freshmen year record in goals, and with it, help the Tigers move their record over .500.
Original URL: http://www.dailyprincetonian.com/2012/10/16/31518/