For most of the players on the men’s water polo team, flying to Southern California for a three-day seven-game weekend wasn’t a road trip — it was going home. Thirteen of the 20 players on the roster hail from the Golden State, and many of their opponents this weekend were old childhood friends.
Kurt Buchbinder ’14 (Photo: Courtesy Office of Athletic Communications)
“Water polo is a pretty small community to start out with, and you’re going home and seeing guys that you played in high school or club. You get to catch up and say hello,” said co-captain and Long Beach native Kurt Buchbinder ’14. “It’s fun just to see where they’re at and how they’re doing. Sometimes you mess with them in the water a little bit more than you would normally, but it’s all in good fun.”
But that’s where the familiarity for the Tigers ends. Though Princeton is the top-ranked program outside of California, Golden State teams dominate the sport. A California school has won every NCAA Championship title, a streak that spans the last 44 years.
Princeton split its first day of play on Friday, beating Chapman 13-9 and extending its win streak to seven games this season, before falling to its first ranked opponent of the weekend, No. 7 Long Beach State, 11-7. On Saturday, a 13-5 victory over La Verne was sandwiched between lopsided losses to No. 2 Southern California (22-4) and No. 1 UCLA (15-3).
Drew Hoffenberg ’15 (Photo: Courtesy Office of Athletic Communications)
“We knew that coming out here and playing [Southern California] and UCLA would be hard — they’re ranked one and two in the nation But it’s good to play at a little higher level of competition because playing against better people makes you better next time,” co-captain Drew Hoffenberg ’15 said. “You can see what they’re good at and learn from what they do.”
Princeton swept its final day of play on Sunday, beating Claremont McKenna, 13-9, and Whittier, 8-6. Hoffenberg finished with day with 10 goals — five in each game.
Buchbinder said that the biggest adjustment that Princeton had to make as an East Coast water polo team was to “focus a lot more on the very little things.”
“Whether it’s pressuring the ball or shot blocking, or staying in position, it’s unreal how good they are at the little things and that adds up and really helps them out in the long run,” Buchbinder said. “So we have to focus on protecting the ball and getting to our spots.”