Zalewski Named 2010 Princetonian Male Athlete of the Year
PRINCETON, N.J. -- Princeton University senior Mark Zalewski wrapped up his 2010 academic year with yet another honor as he was named by the Princetonian, Princeton's daily student newspaper, as the Male Athlete of the Year. The accolade caps a year in which he led the Tigers to the Eastern Championship and a third place finish at home during the 2009 NCAA Championship.
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In its final game of the year, the men's water polo team faced Loyola Marymount University in the consolation game of the NCAA tournament. One day earlier, LMU had fallen to University of California, Los Angeles — the No. 2 team in the country — by one goal in overtime, and the Lions expected their game with Princeton to be a formality.
The events on that Sunday afternoon proved otherwise. Playing in front of a home crowd, the Tigers jumped out to a first-half lead and held a two-goal lead after the third quarter. In the fourth quarter, LMU appeared primed to make a comeback when senior attack Mark Zalewski rifled a left-handed shot past the Lions’ goalie. Princeton would hold on to win the game 6-5 and pick up the first NCAA Championships victory in program history.
"The goal expanded our lead to three goals and set the tone early in the forth quarter," senior goalie Scottie Hvidt said. "Mark stepped up big, took the responsibility on his shoulders, and that goal earned us the third-place trophy."
Zalewski's goal capped a remarkable senior campaign, in which he led the Tigers statistically in almost every offensive category.
For his efforts in spearheading Princeton's record-setting season, Zalewski has been named the 2009–10 Daily Princetonian Male Athlete of the Year.
With the graduation of Brendan Colgan '09 — who was named Southern Player of the Year — Zalewski entered the year with added pressure to lead the Tigers' efforts on offense.
"We had a lot of big scorers [returning this year]," Zalewski said. "I think we all knew that we needed to fill in the void that he left. We all just stepped up and did what we could. It was kind of the way it fell into place for me. I didn't think I needed to [score] personally for me to succeed. We all knew that we had to produce."
Though Princeton had nine players score in double figures this year, Zalewski's contributions to the stat sheet jumped off the page. Zalewski scored 57 goals on 140 shots.
To put those numbers in perspective, the Tigers' second and third leaders in those categories totaled 56 goals on 158 shots combined. Zalewski also finished with a .407 shooting percentage, which was higher than any other player in Princeton’s starting lineup.
If you ask his teammates, however, it was Zalewski's contributions on the defensive end that marked his biggest improvement in his play from past years.
After recording only 10 steals during his junior season, Zalewski finished his senior year with 29 steals — the third highest mark on the team.
"Mark has always been blessed with a strong offensive game," Hvidt said. "This year, we knew he was going to be a starter, but his defensive game needed to improve if he was going to be in the game 70 percent of the time. He worked really hard, became a smarter all-around player, and really improved his defensive game. It was huge for us." Hvidt is also a staff writer for the ‘Prince.’
Zalewski complemented his proficient play in the pool by boosting team morale out of the water with his gregarious attitude and sense of humor.
After Princeton suffered a 5-3 loss to its archrival Navy in mid-October, Zalewski helped reenergize the team by masterminding its Halloween costume efforts.
"Mark spearheaded our team's Halloween costume by obtaining tons of lacrosse paraphernalia," Hvidt said.
"We dressed up as the men's lacrosse team and hilarity ensued. I think Mark actually believed he was a lacrosse player, or at least he wished he was. But it didn't matter: His spirit and enthusiasm lifted the team up. Three weeks later, we won [Eastern Championship]. He is a very large reason why."
In the finals of Easterns, Princeton topped Navy 5-4 to earn a bid to the NCAA tournament in its home pool. The win avenged Princeton's three-goal loss to the Midshipmen in the finals of Easterns the previous year.
"When we won, it's just the best feeling in the world," Zalewski said. "It was indescribable. It was everything we'd been working towards for a whole year, and to do it is unbelievable."
Defeating Navy in Easterns and LMU in the NCAA tournament "are the two moments that I’ll remember for the rest of my life," Zalewski added.
When Zalewski looks back on his water polo career at Princeton, however, he views the strong bonds he formed with his teammates as more important than the Tigers' third-place finish in the NCAA tournament and victory over Navy at Easterns.
"Ten years from now, it will matter to me that we [won] but it will be much overshadowed by the people that I met," Zalewski said.
"A lot of people come to campus and are freshmen and it’s a nerve-wracking experience. For me, the day that I stepped on this campus, I had 20 best friends. That has been my experience with Princeton water polo since day one," he added.
Zalewski ends his career having enhanced the Princeton water polo tradition that played such an integral role in his college experience.