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No. 10 Women's Water Polo Ready for NCAA Championship This Weekend

Courtesy: Princeton Athletic Communications                                                                      Release: 05/08/2012
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Courtesy: Beverly Schaefer
Senior co-captain Audrey Zak and the Tigers head to San Diego, Calif. for the NCAA Championship.
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LINKS: NCAA Water Polo Championship Info | Interactive Bracket | Watch Live

NCAA Championship Bound!: The No. 10 Princeton women's water polo team is headed to the NCAA Women's Water Polo Championship for the first time in program history. The tournament runs from May 11-13 at San Diego State's Aztec Aquaplex in San Diego, Calif.

The sixth-seeded Tigers (28-4 overall, 8-0 Southern Division) will face third seed USC (21-5 overall, 5-2 MPSF) in the quarterfinals on Friday at 4:45 p.m. ET.

Each of the eight-team slate will play three games over the three-day championship.

CWPA Eastern Champs: After winning the Collegiate Water Polo Association (CWPA) Southern Division Championship for the eighth time in program history, the Tigers went into the CWPA Eastern Championship as the No. 2 seed.

Following a first round bye, the Tigers defeated Harvard, 9-6, in the quarterfinals to open the three-day tournament. In the semifinals versus Brown, a Camille Hooks goal in the fourth quarter helped send the game into overtime. Hooks found the back of the net in the first overtime period to propel Princeton past the Bears, 7-6.  In the championship game, Princeton edged Maryland, 6-5, to win its second-ever Eastern Championship and first in 11 years.

Southern Division Honors: The 2011 Rookie of the Year Katie Rigler again picked up one of the Southern Division's top honors, this time taking home Player of the Year accolades. Sophomore Rigler was also named to the CWPA All-Southern First Team, along with classmate Molly McBee. The senior tandem of goalie Kristen Ward and center Audrey Zak were named to the second team.

Eastern All-Tournament Team: Katie Rigler was named Eastern Championship MVP and to the all-tournament first team following her seven-goal performance. She also tallied five ejections drawn, three steals and three blocks.

Freshman Camille Hooks earned first team honors and goalie Kristen Ward was selected to the all-tournament second team.

Tiger History: This season Princeton earned its first berth in program history to the NCAA Women's Water Polo Championship, which was established in 2001.

Women's water polo became an official varsity sport at Princeton in 1997. Since then, the Tigers have won eight CWPA Southern Division Championships, seven ECAC Championships, two Eastern Championships and an Ivy League Championship. The Tigers have made three trips (1998, 1999 and 2000) to the National Collegiate Championship in program history, as well.

In the Polls: Princeton has been ranked in the national top-20 poll all season. Entering the NCAA Championship, the Tigers hold their highest ranking of the year at No. 10.

In March of 2000, Princeton earned its highest ranking ever at No. 8.

NCAA Championship Field: Princeton is one of eight teams making up the field at the 2012 NCAA Women's Water Polo Championship. The top three seeds went to teams from the MPSF in Stanford, UCLA and USC, respectively, with both Stanford and USC earning the two at-large berths. Automatic qualifiers made up the fourth through eighth seeds in UC Irvine (Big West), Loyola Marymount (WWPA), Princeton (CWPA), Iona (MAAC) and Pomona-Pitzer (SCIAC), respectively.

Winning Streaks: The Tigers currently are riding a seven-game winning streak entering the tournament. Princeton opened the year with a 14-game winning streak,  the fourth-longest streak in program history.

Versus the Top-20: Versus the current national top-20, the Tigers are 5-4. Princeton also defeated both UC San Diego and Harvard, who earned votes towards a national ranking in the May 2 poll.

Rigler Leads Offense...Again: Sophomore Katie Rigler maintained her stance as the team's top offensive performer in 2012, with 69 goals for No. 7 all-time in a single season. Rigler has scored 125 goals over her career, ranking No. 10 all-time in program history.

In the Record Book: Princeton's 28 wins establishes a new program-best record and its 331 goals this season ranks third-best in program history.

In the Cage: Senior goalie Kristen Ward further cemented her stance as one of the top goalies in Princeton history, as she currently boasts 881 career saves, for second-best in program history. Her 256 saves in 2012, is No. 2 all-time in a single season.

California Dreamin': With 12 of the team's 15 players hailing from the Golden State, this weekend's championship will be a homecoming for many of the Tigers.

Newcomers Make Immediate Contributions: This season all six freshmen have made consistent contributions on both the offensive and defensive ends of the pool. The Tiger offense was bolstered substantially by the newbies, as 139 of Princeton's 351 goals scored this season were by the freshmen. Jessie Holechek leads the group with 33 goals in 29 games.

Sister-Sister: Current Tiger junior Rachele Gyorffy will have potential opportunity to face her younger sister Vicky at this weekend's championship. Freshman Vicky is a member of the Pomona-Pitzer team, who will open with Stanford in the quarterfinals.

Scouting No. 3 USC: No. 3 USC heads to San Diego following its third-place finish at the MPSF Conference Championship. The third-seeded Trojans (21-5 overall, 5-2 MPSF) earned one of two at-large bids into the tournament and are 2-5 versus the NCAA Championship field.

Kaleigh Gilchrist leads the Southern California offense with 43 goals, seeing the back of the net in 22 of the Trojans games this year. In goal, Flora Bolonyai has played in 23 games, spanning 86 periods. She's made 180 saves and allowed 110 goals against, for an .840 saves percentage and .510 goals against percentage.

Princeton All-Time vs. USC: The Tigers are 0-1 all-time versus the Trojans, dropping a 10-4 decision at USC on Mar. 18, 1998.

Nicolao Goes to Second NCAA Championship in 2011-12 Year: Fourteenth season head coach Luis Nicolao made Princeton water polo history by reaching the NCAA Championship with both the men's and women's teams in the same year.

On the men's side, he's guided the Tigers to three NCAA appearances, most recently in Fall 2011. With the women, in addition to advancing the NCAAs for the first time in program history this spring, he reached the 300-win milestone earlier this season.

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