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Women's water polo becomes CWPA Champions, will head to NCAA Championships




A year is a long time to wait for redemption.

The Tigers certainly have the talent and experience. They just needed another shot in the Collegiate Water Polo Association Championships to show the world that, too. And this weekend, they took advantage of the chance they got.

Princeton (29-3 overall, 12-1 CWPA) has secured a spot in the NCAA tournament after defeating rival Indiana Hoosiers (23-12, 8-2) in the championship round of the tournament to the tune of 7-6. This is the same Indiana team that prevented Princeton one year ago from moving on the NCAA tournament, and the Tigers earned their sweet revenge.

The road to the championship round certainly did not appear as difficult as the final game itself. The Tigers’ Friday and Saturday matches were won quite handily. Against George Washington (14-17, 1-8), the Tigers hardly seemed to break a sweat, going on a 9-0 run across two quarters that essentially sealed the game. The Tigers went into the locker room up 10-1, and would only augment that lead as the game went on. They finished against George Washington with a final score of 15-2: complete domination from start to finish. Senior utility Taylor Dunstan and sophomore 2-meter Hannah Lapkin were the high scorers on the game for the Tigers, each putting in three. Dunstan also was effective in setting up others, racking up two assists.

Their second match, while better in terms of the scoreboard, was also a showcase in Tiger dominance. The Tigers jumped all over Hartwick (20-19, 6-4), grabbing a 6-0 lead early on and never looking back en route to a 14-7 victory. Again, Dunstan’s play proved to be critical as she put in three goals once more. This time, she was tied with fellow senior utility Ashley Hatcher, who also got three in the back of the net on Saturday.

Junior goalie Ashleigh Johnson was impressive as always through the first, getting save percentages of 80 percent and 67 percent in the George Washington and Hartwick games, respectively.


The effectiveness at both ends would prove critical when the Tigers faced the Hoosiers, a team against which they have struggled in recent contests. A loss in overtime this season, coupled with a painful loss in the CWPA Championships last year, served as key motivations for the Tigers to take back their title. Indeed, Indiana is a team this Princeton program has been unable to solve — prior to this game, the Tigers had not beaten the Hoosiers since 2007.

The game was a bruiser from the get-go. Whistle upon whistle was called as exclusions became a key factor for both offenses to take care of. While both teams took advantage of power plays early on, the game was far more low scoring than Tigers fans are accustomed to seeing from this team.

After a banger of a first quarter, the score was tied up at 2-2. After the two teams traded more goals, Indiana scored off yet another power play, getting a rebound off a save by junior goalie Ashleigh Johnson. The Tigers went into the half down 4-3, with the chance at the NCAA spot on the line.

The second half began with a quick goal by Hatcher, bringing the score level. The chippy play, however, would work against the Tigers, as another exclusion led to an Indiana power play goal, causing the Tigers to fall behind 5-4 with 5:13 remaining in the third period.

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These Tigers, however, know how to play when the pressure is on. Within the two-minute mark of the third, freshman utility Emily Smith came up clutch, putting in her only goal of the game to bring the Tigers back level 5-5. The two teams finished the third quarter at this score, with the fates of two teams hanging in the balance.

Come the final quarter, the Tigers did not disappoint a crowd filled with Orange and Black faithful. Just a minute and a half in, the Tigers executed a sequence of fantastic ball movements that led to an easy goal for Hatcher, giving Princeton its first lead since the first period.

In addition, so much credit for Princeton’s victory has to be given to Johnson’s anticipation of shots throughout the game. The power plays from Indiana hit Princeton hard, and the game could have gone out of reach (and with it, Princeton’s hopes of extending their season) had Johnson not brought her A-game on Sunday afternoon.

Johnson proved crucial not just in shutting down power plays but also in setting up counterattacks. Soon after Princeton’s sixth goal of the game, a Johnson save quickly turned into another goal for Hatcher, her fourth on the day. The three-goal run appeared to have broken the Hoosiers, and to Tiger fans, the championship seemed closer than ever.

Indiana, however, would certainly put up a fight. They scored with about two and a half minutes to go to bring the deficit down to just one. From there, however, the Hoosiers would not get much of a chance to tie it up. The Tigers ran the clock down and kept the ball away from the visitors long enough to lock up the game and the championship.

Due honors went to the Tigers’ stars of the weekend. Dunstan, who was the player of the game against George Washington, was named to the CWPA All-Tournament second team. Hatcher, Johnson and senior utility Jessie Holecheck were all named to the All-Tournament first team. Johnson, who finished the Indiana game with 17 saves, earned MVP honors for the tournament.