In only its third season as a varsity sport at Princeton, the women's water polo team is aiming high. It has an All-American goalie — senior Goga Vukmirovic — a strong left-handed player, sophomore driver Cassie Nichols and more than a handful of freshmen. With all this talent, the Tigers are looking to knock off UMass, a team that has won the Eastern Championships the last three years.
"Our mind set is that we can contend with UMass for the National Championships," head coach Luis Nicolao said.
Led by its captain, Vukmirovic, Princeton hopes to build on last season's record, when the team finished 26-10 overall, 8-0 within the Collegiate Water Polo Association.
"Last year, we peaked in the middle of the year," Vukmirovic said. "Then we flattened out and lost some tough, close games. This year if we continue to build momentum, we will be serious contenders."
In order to accomplish this goal, the Tigers are going to have to rely on their freshmen, who comprise 11 of the 16 spots on the roster.
This shouldn't pose a problem, however. Arguably the best recruiting class in Tiger history, these freshmen girls have played on numerous club teams in addition to their high school squads before coming to Princeton.
Some freshmen have even played with each other. Goalie Lisa Rockefeller and two-meter Adele McCarthy-Beauvis both played for Deerfield Academy last year.
Furthermore, four players — freshman goalie Jenny Hildenbrand, junior two-meter defense Katherine Kixmiller, freshman two-meter Devon Watts and sophomore two-meter defense Megan Bouchier — all played on the same Stanford club team.
"Because we have 11 freshmen, playing with two of them and one sophomore before makes it feel like we've played longer," Kixmiller said.
Even the Tigers' most veteran player isn't concerned.
"All of the freshmen are good water polo players," Vukmirovic said. "They fit in really well. They have made the transition to collegiate play."
The dilemma the team does face, however, is its inexperience in playing as a whole unit — an obstacle made harder to overcome because of the Ivy League's strict rules about practices in the off-season.
"We had issues about Ivy regulations," McCarthy-Beauvis said. "Most teams would be training like five hours. We were only allowed 12 two-hour practices with Coach."
Yet, on Feb. 16, the team looked like it had been training longer. Princeton (1-0) beat Villanova (0-1) convincingly, 12-5.
No. 12 Princeton faces another test this weekend. The Tigers will host the Princeton Invitational — which includes a matchup with No. 8 UMass Sunday. These matches will test just how well the Tigers can play as a team. Once again, the players are confident.
"I think we have a really good chance because they don't know what to expect," freshmen driver Jenny Edwards said. "I think we'll definitely get them by surprise."
Nicolao is also looking forward to this weekend, echoing what could become a common mantra throughout the season."UMass has won Easterns the last three years," Nicolao said. "They have to be knocked off."