PRINCETON (12/1/11) - The Princeton men's water polo team returns to the NCAA Championships this weekend for the second time in the last three years. The Tigers qualified for the event by winning the Eastern Championships two weekends ago with a win over Navy. Princeton will take on three-time defending National Champion USC in the first National Semifinal on Saturday at 1 p.m. Pacific Time in Berkeley, Calif.
The Tigers are making their fourth-ever NCAA tournament appearance and their first since the 2009 season when the Tigers earned their first NCAA tournament win with a 6-5 victory over Loyola Marymount to finish third. Princeton also made NCAA tournament appearances in 1992 and 2004. The 2004 Tigers took UCLA to overtime in the semifinals and fell by a single goal to LMU in the third-place game.
Princeton's path to the NCAA tournament had its up and downs. The Tigers started the season with eight wins in a row including a home win over 13th-ranked Santa Clara to open the season. Princeton then fell in its league opener at Johns Hopkins, but rebounded with a win over 16th-ranked Navy. The Tigers then went 1-5 on a trip to California with a lone win at 13th-ranked Long Beach State. Princeton then came home and won six of seven to clinch the Southern Division regular season title and the top seed for Southerns.
DeNunzio Pool hosted the Southern Championships and the Tigers cruised into the Southern final but ran into a Navy team that bounced back from two losses to Princeton in the regular season to earn the Southern title with a 10-5 win.
That loss left Princeton as the second Southern seed at Easterns, but Princeton went on a roll and defeated Iona and 16th-ranked St. Francis to set up a rematch with Navy for the Eastern title and the CWPA's automatic bid to the NCAA tournament. Princeton never trailed in the title game and broke open a 3-3 tie early in the third quarter with a four-goal run to cruise to a 10-7 win.
Princeton's path to the NCAA tournament was very similar to its path to the 2009 event. In both seasons Princeton was the top seed for Southerns but lost to Navy in the Southern championship game. Then in both seasons the Tigers avenged the loss with a win over Navy at Easterns.
Freshman Drew Hoffenberg led the Tigers at Easterns was named the tournament's Most Valuable Player. Not surprisingly he was also the tournament's top rookie and named first-team all-tournament. Princeton goalkeeper Ben Dearborn was also named to the first-team of the tournament, while Tim Wenzlau was a second-team selection.
Princeton faces a tough draw in USC, the top seed in the tournament field. The teams played on Sept. 29 at USC in a game the Trojans won 13-4. Hoffenberg had two goals in the loss while Mike Helou and Jack Ruth added single goals. USC was the nation's top-ranked team much of the season, but was knocked off in overtime of the MPSF championship game last weekend by UCLA.
Princeton has not faced either UCLA or UC San Diego this season. The Tigers last met the Bruins in the 2010 season, falling 13-2 at SoCals. Princeton and UC San Diego last played in 2007, also at SoCals, and the Tritons defeated Princeton 10-9.