After finishing third in the Eastern Championships and just missing the NCAA tournament in 2012, the men’s water polo team begins its season this weekend at the Princeton Invitational with games at home against Santa Clara, Penn, Harvard and Iona.
Last year, the team went 17-12, finishing in third place in both the Southern Championships and the Eastern Championships. At the Southern Championships, Princeton lost to Mercyhurst 12-11 but beat Navy 10-7 for third place. The Eastern Championships are the culmination of the season.
“Our goal every year is to win Easterns, because then we get [an] automatic bid to NCAAs,” junior attacker Drew Hoffenberg said.
In the first round of the Eastern Championships, Princeton defeated Brown 10-7, but lost to Bucknell 7-6 in the semifinals. The team won a rematch against Mercyhurst in the third place game.
“We ended up making a pretty good run and we beat Brown at Easterns [which] was the favorite for the tournament, so that was one of the highlights of the season. Then we ended up losing to Bucknell in the semifinals, which we thought we could win, and it ended up being a one-goal game,” Hoffenberg said.
The team had six one-goal losses throughout the season, against Brown, St. Francis, Navy, Mercyhurst and Bucknell — twice.
Last year, Hoffenberg was the leading goal-scorer for the team, with 63 goals. This summer, he led the U.S. team to a gold medal in the Maccabiah games in Israel.
“The Maccabiah program allowed us to spend three weeks over in Israel,” he said. “We traveled around the country and … got to immerse [ourselves] in the culture. After that week and a half we started our competition.”
Princeton has lost Matt Weber ’13 and Tim Wenzlau ’13, the second- and third-leading goal-scorers from last season, but has added four new freshmen this year.
“This year we’ve just really been working on our offense, and working on communication, and action,” Hoffenberg said. “We’ve been playing a lot of water polo this year, and I think that’s key, because last year we showed up back to school out of shape a little bit, and this year we showed up in a lot better shape, and so we’ve been able to cut some of the conditioning out of preseason and work more on water polo.”
The official opener is Friday night against Santa Clara at 6:30 p.m. and will be broadcast on ESPNU.
“Right now we’re just focused on fine-tuning our offense and defense, getting to know each other, getting our chemistry down and really playing to the best of our ability,” Hoffenberg said.