Thursday, December 3, 2015

A Man You'd Let Coach Your Kid - Even In A Speedo

TigerBlog was driving down the Princeton Pike Tuesday afternoon a little past 5.

The Princeton Pike is one of three parallel roads that connects Princeton to I-95, which is a distance of about five miles or so. The other two are Route 1, which is southeast of Princeton Pike, and Route 206, which is northwest.

If you leave Princeton at 5, it can take you awhile to get to 95, no matter which of the routes you take. TigerBlog likes to drive up 206 onto Nassau Street in the morning, but that can be a long wait going the other way in the evening.

The Princeton Pike is probably the fastest of the three in the afternoon. Even if Route 1 is a little faster, it's too much of a nightmare to go on anyway at that time.

The area where the Princeton Pike backs up is just past Province Line Road, which is about a mile from 95. For some reason, traffic stops there and crawls the last mile, though really it only takes about five minutes to get there. It's not exactly like trying to get into the Lincoln Tunnel or something like that.

Anyway, when TB was driving down there Tuesday, he came to the light at Province Line Road, which was green as he approached, and then yellow. He thought the person in front of him should have stopped, but he (or she) kept going. Okay, it was more yellow than red at that point.

By the time TigerBlog got to the light, it was completely red, so he stopped. What was the big deal anyway? It was clear that the traffic on the other side of the light was going nowhere, as usual.

So what happened next? The person behind TigerBlog went around him, into the intersection and across. And the person behind that car too.

TigerBlog was stunned. Two cars went through the light after it had turned red. And they had to go around TigerBlog on the right to do so. And they were going nowhere anyway.

The second car got about a third of the way into the intersection before the cars starting coming the other way. Rather than stopping and backing up, that car kept inching forward, forcing the on-coming cars to stop and wait, even though that car couldn't get all the way across the intersection because the traffic was backed up.

TigerBlog didn't suffer from road rage. He suffered from road curiosity. He wanted to know what they were both thinking. Were they texting and didn't see that the light was red? Were the in a hurry? Did they simply not care? Were they just awful drivers?

Sadly, TB will never find out.

A few minutes earlier, he had been on his way to the Jadwin Gym parking lot when he walked past Luis Nicolao, the men's and women's water polo coach. Luis stood all by himself in the darkness on a warm, drizzly night, so TigerBlog forgot for a moment that he wasn't on his way home.

Nope, he was on his way to California. So was the men's water polo team.

A few minutes after TB started talking to Luis, a bus pulled up behind them. Shortly after that, the team came out, and then they were on the bus on their way to the airport.

The occasion was the trip to the NCAA championships. Princeton, the College Water Polo Association champion, was on its way to Los Angeles, where the Tigers were one of six teams in the field.

Already in Los Angeles was TigerBlog's colleague Ben Badua, who hasn't exactly been around here lately.

He left last Wednesday with the women's basketball team, who played in a tournament at Loyola Marymount last Friday and Saturday. If you missed those scores, they were Princeton a lot, the two teams they played a little.

Ben is the OAC contact for women's basketball and men's water polo, among other sports. When the women's basketball team flew back Saturday night, Ben stayed out there, waiting for the water polo team to show up.

The last time TB talked to Ben, he had found a place Sunday to watch the Giants. It was in Santa Monica. On the one hand, TB felt bad that Ben had to stay out there for a few extra days. On the other hand, you know, it was Southern California.

As for the water polo team, its opponent in the play-in game tonight will be the University of California-San Diego. For the winner, there is UCLA, the top seed, in Saturday's semifinals.

The six-team field is Princeton and five California schools.

It's not surprising. Nicolao has built a powerhouse in men's and women's water polo here.

In his 18 years coaching the two programs, Nicolao has put together a combined record of 773-280, which means winning nearly three of every four times out. The men are 363-145, while the woman are 410-135.

The men have won nine Southern Division titles and four Eastern championship, while the women have won nine Southern and four Eastern. This is his seventh NCAA tournament trip, five of which have come in the last five years.

Luis is quite possibly the funniest person who works in the athletic department. He's certainly the only one who ever wore a speedo to the senior athlete year-end banquet.

He's also exactly the kind of person you'd want your child to play for in college. If you saw him in one of the "Who's the Tiger" videos, you can see that.

Water polo isn't one of the 33 official Ivy League sports - and of course it's obviously heavily California-centric - so it flies under the radar a bit here.

But take nothing away from what Princeton water polo has accomplished, men's and women's. And the coach.

The fall of 2015 is just another chapter in that success.

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