Menlo School grads lead Princeton water polo into opener

Merlone and Hale will share captain's role for the Tigers this season

Menlo School 2007 graduates Matt Hale and Mike Merlone -- both entering their senior season at Princeton -- have been named co-captains of the Tigers' men's water polo team.

Princeton kicks off the season with its own three-day invitational starting Friday against Cal Baptist before facing off against Santa Clara in a televised game at 3 p.m. (Pacific) on ESPNU. That game will match Hale and Merlone against former Menlo coach Keith Wilbur, now SCU's head coach.

Princeton also will face Harvard, and its new head coach Ted Minnis, on Saturday. Minnis, the former Castilleja coach, won his first collegiate game on Sunday.

Merlone and Hale both come into this season after solid campaigns in 2009.

Merlone recorded a 12-10 record with a .532 save percentage in 23 games. He stopped 190 of the shots he faced and recorded 10 assists and 30 steals. He twice recorded 12 saves in a game -- in a loss to Santa Clara and in a victory over Navy. He collected 15 saves in the two NCAA tournament games, and for the season, he averaged better than 8.6 saves per game.

As a sophomore, Merlone averaged 10.3 saves per game and finished with a 15-8 record with a .542 save percentage. Merlone posted a 5-4 record in 11 appearances as a freshman.

Merlone was Menlo School's starting goalie his junior and senior seasons, netting Central Coast Section Most Valuable Goalie honors both seasons. He and Hale boosted the Knights to a 28-1 record and a second consecutive CCS title.

As a junior at Princeton, Hale was named to the ACWPC All-America honorable mention for a season in which he scored 19 goals in 24 games. Hale, a center defender, also was named to the NCAA's Second All-Tournament Team and was a CWPA All-Academic Team Member.

Hale came back strong from an injury that kept him sidelined for four games as he scored 10 goals in eight postseason matches. He closed out the season with a goal in each game of the NCAA tournament, scoring against both USC and Loyola Marymount.

As a sophomore, Hale led the team with 44 steals for the second consecutive season and collected 16 goals. Hale made an immediate impact during his freshman year and was one of six Princeton players to reach 20 goals, and he led the team in steals with 52.

Along with helping power Menlo School to a CCS title, Hale played for the Stanford Water Polo Club's 18B team that placed in the top 10 at the Junior Olympics and was named a NISCA Academic All-America.

Princeton is ranked 14th in the CWPA Men's Varsity Top 20 Preseason Poll. The Tigers finished the 2009 season ranked 10th in the nation after finishing third at the NCAA Championships. Former Sacred Heart Prep standout Douglas Wigley played on Princeton's team last season.

Princeton does return 12 players, including Palo Alto High grad Tim Wenzlau. He scored 22 goals last season. Also playing for the Tigers are SHP grads Ben Dearborn and Connor Still, both freshmen.

-- Palo Alto Online Sports

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