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Women's water polo finishes up regular season with four victories

After last season's 12-8 loss to Villanova, women's water polo head coach Paul Nelson said, "I think we're really on par with Villanova."

Coming from someone else, the words might have been nothing more than confidence-building coach-speak, but Nelson's record of no-nonsense analysis and brutal honesty – about both his team's shortcomings and its strengths – makes his assessment one for Princeton's opponents to take seriously.

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Nelson had to wait a year to be vindicated, but the Tigers' 7-2 win over Villanova Friday showed the Wildcats that his words are worth believing, if they didn't believe them already.

More wins

After thrashing the Wildcats in Villanova, Pa., Princeton went on to beat West Chester, 16-2, James Madison, 16-0 and Penn, 12-3 Saturday and Sunday at George Washington.

Princeton (18-6 overall, 7-1 Collegiate Water Polo Association) ended the weekend with a 4-0 record, earning the No. 2 seed at the upcoming Mid-Atlantic South Championships, to be held April 18-19 at DeNunzio Pool.

The Mid-Atlantic South division is probably the better of the two Mid-Atlantic divisions, according to Nelson, and in CWPA league games this season, the Tigers have only lost to No. 11 Maryland. The top three teams at Mid-Atlantics will go to the Eastern Championships.

For the rapidly improving Princeton team, the win against Villanova may have been anticlimactic as this year's Tigers have moved from No. 20 to No. 14 in the national collegiate rankings. Having come so far, this weekend's match against the unranked Wildcats didn't phase the Princeton team.

Boring

"There were no standout moments," said senior captain Dimple Patel. "It was just a standard game."

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The Tigers plowed over Villanova despite the absence of individual standouts, relying more on a balanced attack. Princeton starts six experienced players, who regularly have multiple-goal games. The Tigers capitalize on their solid starting lineup by playing a tight, team-oriented defense.

Sophomore goaltender Goga Vukmirovic, named to the All-East first team as a freshman, is usually the team's starting goalie.Vukmirovic started against Villanova, but Nelson took advantage of the weekend's weaker remaining schedule to give junior goalie Emily Brown a chance to gain some game experience.

Backup shines

Having the fortune, or misfortune, of playing behind Vukmirovic, called "one of the top three or four goalies in the country" by Nelson, Brown has seen little action this season. Although she has played individual games, this weekend was the first time Brown served as the Tigers' primary goalie for the majority of a tournament. In three solid games, Brown racked up a total of 18 saves, six against West Chester, five against Penn and seven in a shutout against James Madison.

Princeton beat JMU in a 16-0 route which Nelson called, "perhaps the best defensive effort of the year."

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In particular, freshman utility Katherine Kixmiller, usually known as an offensive powerhouse, "showed dramatic defensive improvement."

In tight games, Kixmiller is one of the team's most effective scorers. She had four goals – over half the team total – against Villanova. Kixmiller has repeatedly energized the offense in Princeton's most difficult matches, scoring the only goal in its spring break matchup against No. 10 UC-San Diego and two of four goals against No. 7 Southern California, also over spring break.

The Tiger bench also gained game experience this weekend. Freshman Jessica Jarvis, sophomore Caroline Nuffort and senior Jody Sanders all scored against JMU. Nuffort netted another goal in Princeton's 12-3 win against Penn.

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