It’s showtime for the women’s water polo team. After a successful trip to Providence, R.I., they will begin the most intense part of their season on Friday afternoon, as they play their first game in the Collegiate Water Polo Association Championship tournament.
Having solidified their position with wins over Brown and Harvard last weekend, the Tigers (26-3 overall, 9-1 CWPA) have earned themselves the No. 1-seeded in the tournament, ensuring them a first round bye to start the tournament. They come into this weekend ready to avenge the painful loss from last season, when they lost in the final round of the tournament by a single goal, and thus saw their hope of an NCAA tournament bid slip away from their grasp.
Many might say that the postseason is a time to let go of the successes of the past and focus only on the games ahead. Senior utility Jessie Holechek, however, points out that the team’s success (and their few losses) may serve as a building block for its success going into its first game on Friday.
“We are really excited about the success we have had during the regular season of play and can't wait to take everything that we have learned from our losses into this weekend of play,” Holechek said when reached for comment. “We have been improving since the beginning of the year, and we hope to continue this trend this weekend.”
The play of Holechek herself will prove critical if the Tigers want to make it out of the tournament on top. She was the second leading goal scorer for the Tigers this year, putting in 46 so far this season.
Fellow senior utility Ashley Hatcher expressed a similar sentiment. While the postseason does demand that the team takes each game one at a time, recent success not only boosts the team’s morale but also provides insight into how to best handle these same teams (Harvard and Brown) in the tournament.
“We definitely have to take each day one at a team and treat each game as its own and respect every opponent, but I do think that the win over Harvard is really important because there’s a good chance we’ll face them in the semifinals,” Hatcher said. Princeton and No. 4-seeded Harvard would face each other in the semifinal round if each team wins their lone game on Friday (Harvard against No. 5 Hartwick College, Princeton against the winner of the game between No. 8 Mercyhurst University and No. 9 George Washington University).
Given the margins of victory in the past two games, Hatcher feels that the team has every reason to use these games as fuel for Friday.
“We have a good amount of confidence after the last game; we feel like we set the tone pretty well. If we can repeat, that it’ll make it that much easier for us.” Hatcher said.
Opposing teams will be in trouble if Hatcher can continue her fantastic play from last weekend. Leading the Tigers’ scoring on the season with 70 goals, she turned up the heat against Harvard and Brown, getting 7 goals on just 8 shots.
However, Princeton’s strong performance last weekend does not mean it doesn’t lack areas for improvement. Both Harvard and Brown were neck-and-neck with Princeton after the first period was over (Harvard was down just 3-2, Brown tied at 1-1). Hatcher confirmed that coming out of the gate strong and hitting teams hard early in the first round will be crucial if the Tigers are to conserve their strength as much as possible for the later rounds.
“It’s really important and is something that a lot of teams struggle with. You can win a game, play a great game, but playing a great game from the very beginning is a hard thing to do,” Hatcher said. “That’s definitely going to be our focus for Saturday night. The better we play in the first quarter, the more everyone is going to play, and the more everyone is going to rest.”
A rested team would certainly give the Tigers a leg up as they make their way through the tournament. Looking ahead toward potential matchups, should Princeton win their first two games, they could very well find themselves matched up with the Indiana Hoosiers in the final round. These two teams have no love lost – the Hoosiers defeated the Tigers in the final round of the CWPA championships, putting a premature end to the Tigers’ best season in program history. The loss was particularly painful given that the Tigers held a 10-9 lead midway through the fourth period, only to give up 2 goals in the last few minutes to fall 11-10.
The close encounters did not stop there. Princeton has lost twice to Indiana this season, both times by just one goal. In their most recent game, April 10 at DeNunzio Pool, the Tigers lost in a double overtime heartbreaker.
Hatcher, who scored four goals in that overtime game this season and two in the CWPA Championship final round last year, has last year’s loss fresh in her mind going into this weekend.
“It really left a bitter taste in our mouths,” Hatcher said. “I think it’s a really great way to fuel us for this weekend, because it makes us that much more meaningful if we do beat them at the end of this season.”
Hatcher points out that the most recent loss to Indiana, while still painful, is inspiring because she believes the team was not at full form during the game. A Princeton team acting at full throttle could pose more problems than Indiana can handle.
“We take some confidence from the last loss, because we know, coming out of that game and the game before, that we did not play our best game,” Hatcher said. “Knowing that we have played not nearly at our best against them and we’ve played them to a one goal game in overtime says a lot to us. We know if we can come out fired up for that game if we do happen to play them, then we have the chance to beat them, by more than one goal, if we play our best.”
While last year’s losses seem to be firing the Tigers up, for some of the players, the greatest fuel might be the knowledge that any game they play from now on could be their last. As seniors, Holechek and Hatcher are well aware of the now-or-never tone that the season has taken on.
“It will be great to host our championship tournament knowing that this is the place where we have put in so much hard work,” Holechek said. “Each game will remind us of the hard work we have put in over the years, and we will use that to fuel us into the finals.”
Hatcher feels the same kind of emotions over this weekend. She and the Tigers now hold their destiny in their own hands.
“This is our last shot,” Hatcher said “It’s a big motivating factor for this weekend.”