This weekend, the No. 12 men’s water polo team will take on three conference opponents: Johns Hopkins (12-4, 2-2), Navy and Bucknell . The first two matches — Saturday at 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. at DeNunzio Pool — will be home rematches of away contests three weeks prior. Princeton (11-3 overall, 4-0 Collegiate Water Polo Association Southern Division) emerged from both Maryland pools victorious last time around. For the third match, the Tigers will travel to Lewisburg, Pa.
After its last win, Princeton’s record in the Southern Division is now 4-0.
Earning head coach Luis Nicolao’s 300th career victory, the men’s squad led for almost the entirety of its away matchup with Johns Hopkins and came away with a 15-10 win in its previous matchup. Junior attacker Drew Hoffenberg led the offense with seven goals.
Named Southern Division Player of the Week following a difficult West Coast trip two weekends ago, in which he scored 17 goals over seven contests, co-captain Hoffenberg noted the difference posed by varying venues.
“Last time when we played Hopkins, their pool was shallow,” he said. “It’s kind of a different game. It’s going to be interesting to see how they are in a deep pool.”
Earlier this season, the Midshipmen (9-12, 0-4) provided an early challenge for the Tigers, who held onto a one-goal lead at the half. Outscoring Navy 9-4 in the second period, Princeton pulled away for a 12-7 victory. Historically, the Annapolis squad has proven a difficult rival. Princeton trails Navy 22 to 34 in the all-time series.
The previous matchup against the Bucknell Bisons (6-4, 1-3) came just last weekend. The Tigers emerged victorious by a margin of 14-9. The Tigers’ postseason hopes last year came to an end in the second round of the Eastern Championships in a 7-6 decision at the hands of their Pennsylvania rivals. In 51 contests with the Bisons, Princeton has secured 39 wins with 13 losses.
“We’ve played all the teams before, so we know kind of what to expect,” Hoffenberg said. “We know what they’re going to run. It’s going to be interesting to see what adjustments they make between games. We played pretty well against all of them, so it’s going to be hard to keep that level of intensity against them.”
So far this year Princeton has outscored its opponents by a margin of 146-129. Hoffenberg has contributed 36 goals — a team high — and sophomore center Thomas Nelson has added 22 goals, good for third on the squad. Freshman utility Jovan Jeremic comes in second on the team with 27 goals. A stellar performance during the team’s West Coast trip earned him conference Rookie of the Week honors.
Hoffenberg remarked on the encouraging boost provided by the incoming Class of 2017: “We knew we were going to have depth because we were bringing in some good freshmen. But it was surprising to see how well they adjusted so quickly.”
Following this weekend, the team will take part in the Ivy League Championship tournament in Philadelphia hosted by Penn. The event last year coincided with Hurricane Sandy, resulting in the cancellation of the final contests. The Tigers will enter the event this year as the top seed, ranked as the unanimous No. 1 selection in the most recent CWPA.
Princeton remains the only East Coast team in the top 15 of the NCAA men’s rankings. Within the top 20, Harvard is at 17 and St. Francis is at 16. Johns Hopkins and Brown were among the other vote-receiving teams.
“We’re obviously confident because we’ve beat[en] all the other teams in the division,” Hoffenberg said. “But at the same time, we haven’t faced all the teams we’re going to face in [the] Easterns [Championships]. Teams like Brown and St. Francis — who are traditional powerhouses — we haven’t played them or seen them play. So while at the same time we’re confident, we’re still trying to maintain our composure and realize that we may not be the best team. There are other teams out there who we still need to compete against and strive to get better to beat.”