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No. 12 women’s water polo closes out undefeated conference regular season with wins over Harvard and Brown

A woman in the water holding a water polo ball as a defender attempts to steal it.
Junior utility Kayla Yelensky has 175 career goals for the Tigers, placing her 10th all-time in the record book
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The No. 12 women’s water polo team (21–6 overall, 10–0 Collegiate Water Polo Association) entered the weekend looking to go undefeated in the CWPA regular season for the first time since 2018. On Saturday evening, the team beat the No. 21 ranked Harvard Crimson (11–11, 4–4) and No. 25 ranked Brown Bears (15–14, 4–5), securing the No. 1 seed in the CWPA postseason tournament.

Win No. 100 for Ellingson 


In their first game of the weekend, Princeton defeated the Crimson 10–6, spoiling their rival’s senior day celebration. The win was a special one for Head Coach Derek Ellingson, who secured the 100th win of his career with the women’s program. 

“Derek told us before the game on Saturday to not let other factors affect us and just play our game and play together as a team,” first-year utility Olivia Krotts told The Daily Princetonian after the game.

Junior center defender Grace Houlahan also touched on Ellingson’s contributions to the team’s success.

“Our coaching staff has been our fearless leaders. Everytime we get stressed in the water, I can always look to them and count on them.”

Harvard started the scoring off with a goal from attacker Sasha Constandse. Sophomore attacker Ava Houlahan quickly responded with a rebound shot that found the back of the cage.

The Crimson played an aggressive game from the beginning, constantly driving and trying to make things uncomfortable for the Tiger defense — they converted a penalty to take a 2–1 lead to start. Junior utility Kayla Yelensky scored her first of the day to bring the Tigers back even. With Jovana Sekulic on a gap year as she tries to make the Olympic roster with Team USA, Yelensky has taken on a bigger role offensively, with 60 goals this season to lead the team. 


Shortly after, senior utility Kaila Carroll fed the ball into sophomore utility Shanna Davidson, who found the back of the net to give the Tigers their first lead of the contest. An impressive steal for the Tigers from Krotts highlighted Princeton’s aggressive response to the Crimson’s early lead in the contest. 

“Even though we did go undefeated, it’s going to make teams want to beat us more in the postseason and at the CWPA tournament, which means we just have to work harder and be ready for every team that we are going to play,” Krotts told the ‘Prince.’

Despite a Harvard timeout with two minutes remaining, the Crimson were unable to capitalize on a powerplay opportunity, courtesy of a huge save from Tiger goalkeeper Lindsey Lucas. The next possession, Lucas made a crucial penalty save to keep the Crimson at bay. The sophomore standout finished the game with 11 saves.

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Princeton continued their run into the second quarter, with an unexpected lob shot from Krotts that Harvard goalkeeper Alexis Kieckhafer was unable to block. The second quarter was highlighted by aggressive defense on both sides but ultimately dominated by the Tigers, with the Crimson scoring no goals. 

The half closed out with another goal from Carroll with 40 seconds remaining to give the Tigers a 5–2 advantage heading into the second half.

In the third quarter, Harvard got the scoring started within 32 seconds as they hoped to make a comeback. The quarter was a game of possessions and turnovers, with both teams unable to get quality shots through each other's defenses. 

A quick shot from Davidson ended the scoring drought, followed by a goal from Ava Houlahan to make it 7–3 with just over 30 seconds remaining in the quarter.

In the opening possession of the final quarter, a pass into center from Krotts set Yelensky up to find a bottom-left space, opening the lead. A hat trick from O’Dea assisted Harvard in closing the lead, but first-year center Charlotte Riches responded less than a minute later with her first goal of the night. 

A hat trick from Yelensky sealed the win for Ellingson and the Tigers. A late Harvard run gave the home side two consolation goals, but the Tigers left Cambridge with a comfortable 10–6 victory.

No. 1 seed secured 

As soon as the buzzer sounded in Cambridge, the Tigers headed down I-95 to Providence to take on the Brown Bears less than four hours later. 

Though the first quarter was highlighted by back-and-forth attempts from both teams, Princeton held a 4–3 lead over Brown, with help from Carroll who scored two of those first four Tiger goals. 

Early in the second quarter, Carroll continued her push, scoring a hat trick and emphasizing the Tigers’ hungry gameplay after a fairly even first quarter. The second quarter was dominated by the Tigers, who held a 9–5 lead after a high-scoring first half. 

Entering the second half with a four-goal advantage, the Bears attempted to close the deficit, but the Tiger’s defense held strong. The defense was a priority for both squads after the high-powered offense on display earlier. Each team scored just one goal in the period, with Princeton maintaining their lead ahead of the final quarter. 

The Bears managed to cut the lead to 11–8 in the fourth quarter, but it proved to be too little too late. A final goal from senior utility Meera Burghardt closed out the game. Carroll led the match with four goals, leading the Tigers to a victory over the Bears 12–10.

Lucas had nine saves to bring her season total to 222 saves. With 547 career saves through her first two seasons, Lucas could join Ashleigh Johnson ’17 as the second Princeton goalie ever to reach 1000 career saves. Johnson is currently the starter for the U.S. national team and is highly regarded as one of the best American goalies. 

Princeton will enter the CWPA Tournament as the No. 1 seed next weekend, thus receiving a bye to the semifinals where they will likely meet Harvard or Brown once again. 

“We’ve had a really fun season,” Lucas added. “We have a good team culture which is going to fuel us through these next two weeks to championships and allow us to work together and do what we need to do.”

Francie McKenzie is a Sports contributor for the ‘Prince.’

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