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No. 13 Men's Water Polo to Face Cal on ESPNU Friday, Host Princeton Invite

Courtesy: Princeton Athletic Communications                                                                      Release: 09/05/2012
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Courtesy: Beverly Schaefer
Sophomore Drew Hoffenberg and the No. 13 Tigers open up the 2012 season this weekend.
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The No. 13 Tiger men's water polo team will kick off the 2012 season by hosting the three-day Princeton Invitational from Sept. 7-9 at DeNunzio Pool. Princeton will play five games at the weekend tournament, including a Friday 6 p.m. contest versus No. 3 California live on ESPNU.

Princeton Invitational Schedule
For full tournament schedule, please click here
Friday, Sept. 7 vs. Cal Lutheran @ 1 p.m.
Friday, Sept. 7 vs. No. 3 California on ESPNU @ 6 p.m.
Saturday, Sept. 8 vs. MIT @ 10 a.m.
Saturday, Sept. 8 vs. Harvard @ 3 p.m.
Sunday, Sept. 9 vs. No. 2 UCLA @ 11:45 a.m.

To watch No. 13 Princeton vs. No. 3 Cal live on ESPNU, click here

Princeton enters 2012 prepared to defend its Eastern Championship behind a veteran laden squad. Despite the Tigers' depth, a challenging slate lies ahead with games versus some of the top teams in the nation.

"Always our expectation is to get ourselves in the position to win an Eastern Championship. I understand it's a long year, but we are excited about the competitions we do have, including UCLA and Cal being out here (this weekend), and we go to Southern California and play top teams including USC," said head coach Luis Nicolao, who is entering his 15th season at the helm of the program.

In 2011, Princeton went 22-10, 6-2 Southern en route to its third Eastern Championship. The Tigers wrapped up the year with a third place finish at the NCAA Championships.

"I think we have a great schedule this year. We are excited to build off last year and look to continue the success we've had. Again, we will take it one game at a time and we know that there are quite a few teams in the east that can win (Easterns) this year and it is a matter of peaking at the right time," explained Nicolao.

In addition to facing Cal and UCLA during the opening weekend, this year's schedule features trips to Southern California to face reigning National Champion No. 1 USC (Sept. 28) and a weekend at the SoCal Tournament hosted at No. 5 UC Santa Barbara (Sept. 29-30). The regular season will wrap up with the Eastern Championships, which Princeton will host from Nov. 16-18 and look to earn the conference's automatic berth into the NCAA Final Four.

"I think (this year's schedule) is great. The only way we will get better as a team is by playing teams that are better than us. That East Coast schedule is obviously a challenge, but we get to play three of the four of the top teams in the country in the first month of the season - that's just wonderful to play eye level and see what they do. No doubt that will help us as a team," commented Nicolao.

The Tigers return 22 players this season, while adding three freshmen to the roster. The mix of experience and talented newcomers will assuredly bolster the Princeton lineup.

"We lost a really good class, but we have a nice class coming back with some key members. (The team) really gained a lot of experience after last year at Easterns and going to the Final Four, so there is no doubt experience-wise we should do well. We have some good freshmen who will come and help us right away and it is a matter of us playing well at the right time," Nicolao said.

The three newbies include two field players in Jamie Kuprenas and Bradley Wachtell, who will vie for minutes and garner experience from their veteran teammates. Goalie Alex Gow rounds out the trio and he will be there to bolster Princeton's play in the cage.

"Last year it was really hard for us (in goal) because Ben (Dearborn) suffered with a nagging injury and he had to rest a lot. I think this year, Ben and Alex give us some depth at the goalie position. If one is having an off day, the other can play and they can feed off each other," answered Nicolao.

In front of the cage, the Tigers will have the biggest hole to fill at 2-meters with the loss of Jeff Cole and Mike Helou. Rising sophomores Kayj Shannon and Matt Weber and senior Jack Ruth will look to come in and play a bulk of Princeton's minutes.

The most depth will be in the perimeter, as several players will be able to step in and it will be one of the keys to this year. The new players will also be looked upon to dive in and keep the squad's depth at a high level.

The offensive attack will look to again be headlined by sophomore All-America Drew Hoffenberg. The attacker scored a team-high 47 goals, while adding 36 assists on the year. He enters 2012 as one of the top-10 players in the nation, as per NCAA.com's Players to Watch List.

"Drew is one of those players who just does it all for us. He is so smart, aggressive and a team leader in the water, which makes everybody around him better. I think Drew had a really surprising freshman year and no doubt he's ready to have an awesome sophomore year," added Nicolao.

Undoubtedly the challenges will begin from the opening weekend and will extend to the final buzzer, but the Tigers are ready to face talented opponents and continue to grow as a program.

"We talk a lot to our kids about trying to keep things in perspective. Take it one game at a time and if we work hard good things will happen. We don't want to get too high or too low after a win or a loss, and we really need to focus come November that we're healthy and playing the best polo we can play. It is exciting Easterns will be at our pool, so it is the first time in 10 years we are home for the Eastern Championships. Everyone is gunning for us and hopefully we play well and have a good weekend," concluded Nicolao.

Scouting Cal Lutheran: Cal Lutheran will kick off the new season at the Princeton Invite behind a 21-man roster made up of returners, transfers and newcomers. The Kingsmen will be led by 2011 All-America senior goalie Danny Mock, who had 189 saves last year, while the offense will be bolstered by classmate Max Zappas following his 17-goal season. CLU currently is ranked No. 6 in the CWPA Varsity Division III Top 10 Poll.

Scouting No. 3 California: The third-ranked Golden Bears of California also open their 2012 slate at the Princeton Invitational this weekend. Last year, UC Berkeley posted a 22-4, 7-1 MPSF record led by the offensive attack of graduated senior Ivan Rackov's team-leading 70 goals. Cal's top returning scorer is sophomore Aleska Saponjic, who had 30 goals for third-best. In goal, senior Justin Parsons returns after tallying 206 saves and a 6.40 goals against average.

Scouting MIT: MIT is currently ranked No. 7 in the CWPA Division III Top 10 Poll. The Engineers are 2-3 on the year, posting double figure victories over Yale (23-7) and Harvard (19-7) to open the season before dropping their last three contests. Updated statistics were unavailable for MIT.

Scouting Harvard: Harvard heads to Princeton following a 2-1 outing at the MIT-hosted Labor Day Invite. Victories over junior college squad Diablo Valley (14-12) and Yale (12-5) sandwiched the Crimson's 19-7 loss to host-MIT last weekend. Three Harvard players have scored five or more goals, with both freshmen Nathan Clement and Noah Harrison leading the team with six goals apiece. Between the posts, goalie Jimmy Field has 12 saves and counterpart Colin Woolway has six.

Scouting No. 2 UCLA: No. 2 UCLA heads east riding a 3-0 record, defeating all three season opening opponents by eight goals or more. Sophomore goalie Stephen White has 25 saves over three starts, as the Bruins handedly defeated their early opponents. UCLA has seen contributions from several goal scorers behind a veteran offensive line. Updated statistics from UCLA were unavailable.

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