After experiencing a season featuring tight wins and a trip to the NCAA tournament, the women’s water polo team will begin their quest for glory once more. This weekend, they will open the 2016 season at home as they take on California Baptist University, Villanova University, California Lutheran University and Iona College at the Princeton Invitational.
After going 31-5 in the previous season, the Tigers certainly have every reason to feel confident heading into this weekend. Adding to a positive outlook for the weekend is the fact that they had a perfect record against California Baptist, Villanova and Iona in their contests last year.
Indeed, having had the chance to play against top-tier opponents also bodes well for the Tigers this year. Playing powerhouses such as Stanford and UCLA in the NCAA tournament goes a long way in terms of helping a team develop into a championship-contending squad.
“We had a great season last year – beating Indiana at the CWPA Championships to go to NCAAs at Stanford was so exciting,” senior utility Pippa Temple explained. “Getting to play such high quality games on the west coast really helped us improve as a team and show us that we can compete at the same level as all of those top teams.”
However, the women of Nassau do not enter this season without important questions to answer. Among the most pressing is how to replace some of their strongest talent from the 2014-2015 season. Leading scorers Ashley Hatcher ’15 and Jessie Holechek ’15 have graduated, and star goalie Ashleigh Johnson ’16 is currently taking the year off as she attempts to grab a spot on the USA women’s water polo team for the 2016 Olympics.
One of the first things that one notices when seeing the new roster is its youth: over half of the team is comprised of underclassmen. Temple, however, expressed full confidence in the team’s younger members as they head into their first test of the season.
“We did lose quite a big class of seniors from last year, but the underclassmen have stepped up so much already. They’re filling some pretty big shoes and I am so impressed. The freshmen are already contributing in big ways,” Temple said. “We have two of them starting the first game tomorrow. The sophomores all had great years last year and I can’t wait to see how having one year of experience under their belts will help them progress this year.”
In particular, sophomore utility Haley Wan will be a player to watch out for. As a rookie, she led the team in assists and blocks. She was tied for fourth on the team in goals scored on the season, along with sophomore two-meter Chelsea Johnson.
On the whole, despite losing a cast of strong upperclassmen, the Tigers’ goal has not wavered, and this weekend could prove to be a sign that they’ll come out as strong as ever.
“I think our goal for this weekend is to show teams that we may have lost a lot of people, but we’re still here to compete and we’re still going to be a big threat,” Temple said. “We have a small team this year (14 people) but it’s full of a lot of very talented players.”
The Tigers are set to play California Baptist at 2:00 p.m. at DeNunzio Pool. The game can be viewed via the Ivy League Digital Network.