The first game of the season always inspires raw nerves and maybe even fear. Friday night at the Princeton Invitational, the women's water polo team (2-2) played its first game in the 1998 season and its first-ever game as a varsity team.
Matched up against the University of Indiana, the No. 20 Tigers entered the water strong, but ultimately dropped the match 11-5.
The faceoff set the tone for the rest of the game. Princeton swam hard and reached the ball a split second before Indiana, but in the ensuing battle for control, Indiana emerged victorious and began the game as the first on the attack.
The difference between the Princeton and Hoosier offenses told the whole story. Indiana ran a smart triangle above the goal, using crisp, fast passing to keep the ball out of the grasp of the Tiger defense and fully exploiting its ability to attack the goal from the left, the right and head on.
And attack they did.
Like the Princeton men's basketball team, Indiana used a sweet backdoor play, repeatedly rocketing the ball off the top, to the corner, and into the goal.
Princeton had its moments, but overall the offense couldn't keep up with Indiana's. The Tigers had problems bringing the ball down the pool, often loosing control at mid-pool. When they did settle into the offense, Indiana's defense was big and it was scary. Under pressure, Princeton took a disproportionate number of forced shots, scoring only twice in the first three quarters.
Picking up the pace
Fifty-eight seconds into the fourth quarter, the Tigers scored their third goal, marking a palpable change in tempo. Good ball-handling allowed Princeton to play closer to the offensive goal, and the Tigers outscored Indiana 3-1 in the quarter.
Senior holeset Dimple Patel threw a perfectly timed pass to junior two-meter defender Veronica Diaz as Diaz left the defense behind to cut straight towards the Indiana goalie and hammer in the final goal.
Saturday afternoon, in a 8-7 win against Navy Aquatic Club, the team maintained its momentum from the night before. Junior Celeste Henery had three goals. Patel and freshman Katherine Kixmiller each scored twice.
On the rise
In the third game of the tournament, the Tigers beat No. 17 Harvard 7-5. Anchored by sophomore goalie Goga Vukmirovic's 16 saves, Princeton played a much better defensive game than it had against Indiana, where the Tigers were slow to cover the ball. Princeton succeeded in controlling the game offensively and defensively. Kixmiller scored three times and Patel and Henery netted two each.
The Tigers' final game in the eight-team tournament was against 10th ranked University of Massachusetts. Princeton had difficulty staying in the game, losing 11-1. The Tigers will meet Massachusetts again later in the season.
"Our score might not have shown it, but now we know how they play and we know what to work on," Patel said. "I have no doubt that by the end of the season, we'll be playing with them."