Over 15 seasons, coach Luis Nicolao has turned No. 16 Princeton into a water polo power. Nicolao is coming off arguably his greatest campaign with last season’s national third place finish, which led to USA Water Polo awarding him the Monte Nitzkowski Award. Nicolao was an exceptional player himself, graduating from Navy as a three-time All-American and the Academy’s all-time leading scorer.
Last season marked the second time in three campaigns that Princeton finished third at the national championship tournament. While injuries have caused the Tigers to exit the gate slower than expected, they are set to gain momentum come November.
What does Princeton need to do to win the East and get back to the NCAA tournament?
Nicolao: We need to get healthy. Our team has been fighting the injury bug all year long. We are missing guys from last year and have some new players getting experience.
Ben Dearborn performed well in the Princeton-Cal game. I know he has had some injury issues. How is he recovering?
Nicolao: Ben had three hip surgeries. He tore a labrum in one hip twice and the other once. Last season, he could only practice two days a week and we limited him to one game per day. He [did] not travel this weekend as he got hit in the head with a fist against Navy. We are holding him out as a precaution. Ben and Alex Gow have played well and we feel we have depth at the goalie position.
Drew Hoffenberg and Kayj Shannon were both impact freshmen last year. How are they performing this year?
Nicolao: Kayj has a bad shoulder and has not been able to play much this year. We are trying to nurse him back to health as he is such a big presence in two-meter. Hopefully he can provide the same impact as last year when he gets healthy. Drew does it all – he is our catalyst and coach in the water. Drew sees everything and makes everyone around him better.
What are you taking from Princeton’s performance at the SoCal Invitational?
Nicolao: We [got] the experience that comes from playing at a high level. We [played] some quality games and this will hopefully help prepare us for the end of November.