Women's water polo has yet to gain the recognition of women's swimming or basketball in America. Many of us may remember Olympic swimmer Amy Van Dyken's "Got Milk" commercial or WNBA star Sheryl Swoopes' eponymous shoes. But how many of us know that women's water polo will make its Olympic debut in the 2000 Summer Games?
The relatively recent establishment of the sport on the collegiate level is an advantage for Princeton (6-3 overall, 4-0 Ivy League), now entering its second season as a varsity sport. With few established teams outside California, any school can claw its way to the top of the national rankings.
This year, the Tigers are poised to make a run at nationals beginning tomorrow when the Collegiate Water Polo Association games begin.
The Tigers are the strongest team in the Ivy League, but the competition will be fierce in the CWPA.
One step away
Last season, the Tigers finished fourth at Eastern Championships and missed nationals by one spot, although their lineup included an All-East first-team member, sophomore goalie Goga Vukmir-ovic, and two Mid-Atlantic All-Tournament awardees, driver Shima Sokol '97 and senior captain Dimple Patel.
In 1997, the team specialized in a fast game which capitalized on Sokol and Anna Lorenson '97's speed. Now, the Tigers play a defensive game.
"We're a really strong defensive team," Patel said. "Everyone knows where they should be and that's what makes us a threat. This will be the biggest factor in how we do this season."
The Tigers run a lane-press defense, similar to a basketball zone. The lane press places pressure on the two-meter defender, junior Veronica Diaz, the only woman other than the goalie to defend close to the goal. This strategy paid off this past weekend at the Ivy Invitational, where Princeton defeated a bigger Harvard team by shutting down the Crimson's two-meter game.
Over the weekend, Diaz will be expected to perform aggressively.
Sunday, the Tigers take to the water against No.11 Maryland, the top team in Princeton's division. Terrapin two-meter Katie Vitali received first team All-American honors at 1997 nationals.
Nothing Diaz or Vukmirovic does, however, will matter if Princeton can't score. Slow offensive starts have plagued the Tigers in past seasons. But Princeton has strong offensive capabilities, utilizing all five players rather than focusing on one or two stars. Patel, Diaz, junior Celeste Henery and freshman Katherine Kixmiller habitually have multiple-goal games. And five varsity swimmers, who joined the team last week, add speed to the Tiger lineup.
Princeton opens its CWPA league games this weekend at Villanova and travels to California for the Claremont Invitational March 20-21.