It has been quite a year for the women's water polo team. Individuals have seen tremendous success in the water, with senior goalkeeper Ashleigh Johnson winning gold in the 2016 Rio Olympic Games and being named goalkeeper of the tournament. Now sophomore Lindsey Kelleher and junior Haley Wan were also named as Honorable Mention All-Americans for the Association of Collegiate Water Polo Coaches (ACWPC). But the team has also been successful out of the pool, with seven of the players being named to the ACWPC All-Academic Team.
The Tigers finished at 19-7 overall last season and made the semifinals of the Collegiate Water Polo Association (CWPA) for the fifth straight season. Although they have lost some key players, who had scored more than 20 goals previously, the strength of having Johnson back on the squad as well as the arrival of the current freshman class has made them a competitive team in the NCAA tournament this year. The Princeton team started off the season at No. 11 in the preseason CWPA Varsity Poll, above any other Ivy League school.
The team opened their 2017 season on a strong note, the best since 2014, after which they finished at 31-2 overall. Princeton started their current 6-0 streak by beating Iona, Villanova, and Wagner, where Head Coach Luis Nicolao earned his 800th combined career win in men and women’s water polo.
Then last weekend saw the Tigers take down Claremont Mudd Scripps, St-Francis Brooklyn, and George Washington. The game against George Washington saw three players score a hat trick, Wan scoring two goals, and freshman Tatum Turetzky score her first collegiate goal. Johnson registered a total of 11 saves in the game. Freshman Kasey Bersh then finished the job in the fourth period to help the Tigers continue their winning streak. Johnson currently holds a 0.69 percent save percentage.
Princeton will now take a week off before they face Harvard at Denunzio Pool on Feb. 25 at 10:30 a.m. This will be quite the game given the rivalry between the Tigers and Crimson. No. 21 Harvard is also on a win streak of four, having only dropped to Wagner in its first game of the season. The last time the teams met, despite a fourth-period comeback attempt by the Crimson, Princeton sealed the win in their CWPA Championship opener game, 12-8.
Junior Chelsea Johnson said, “Harvard is always a big game, so to prepare we are practicing hard and working on the things we have seen that need work in the past few games.”
The team will then play in the Crimson Invitational against Harvard, Marist, Wagner and UC-San Diego.
They then will hit the road for spring break, heading out to California to play some of the nation's best teams in the Roadrunner Invitational. Princeton will play against No. 5 Arizona State at the invitational and then against No. 2 University Southern California (USC), who they have not faced before. In total, the team will face seven different teams when they visit the West Coast and will be hoping to keep up the momentum the next weekend when they face St. Francis-Brooklyn, Bucknell, and No. 6 Michigan.
The team added a total of six new freshmen to their 2017 roster, becoming the largest class of the team. Princeton will be a bottom heavy team this year with only three juniors and four seniors, but so far this has not been a problem for the Tigers. The wealth of experience that the team has as a whole and individually is likely to help guide them through what is looking to be a successful season.
Johnson said, “Our season so far has been great, we are currently 6-0 coming off of two tournaments these past two weekends. We have a really young team so we are really getting to know each other and getting used to playing together, but so far it is looking good.”
Amongst the Class of 2020 is new goalkeeper, Kasey Bersh, who previously did not compete in water polo in high school. A Florida native, she also happens to be the only freshman that does not come from California. The other five include Tatum Turetzky, Abbey Blake, Natalie Grayson, Maddy Damato, and Amy Castellano.
Another player to watch out for this season is junior Chelsea Johnson, who finished last season with 21 goals, 23 steals, 18 drawn ejections, and a All-CWPA Tournament second team title.
“Our assistant coach Becca [Dorst] is making sure we are well swum, so we are getting a lot of yards of swimming in at every practice,” said C. Johnson. “Every day is about getting better so that's what we are focusing on right now!”
Junior Sydney Cheong also had a successful sophomore year, dropping 15 goals, 15 steals and ten helpers.
With the Tigers getting off to a flying start this season, they will be looking to carry the momentum they have produced into the next few weekends, where it is possible to go seven games unbeaten when they face off against Harvard. Princeton will be looking to the more experienced players to help guide the young team against some of the nation's top teams this year. Definitely a team to watch in the coming weeks!