From the Persian Gulf to the Princeton pool

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It may seem difficult to step out from under the shadow of a father who set the world record in the 100-meter butterfly twice and participated in three consecutive summer Olympics, but Luis Nicolao, head coach of the men’s and women’s water polo teams, has managed to make his own impact on the aquatics world.

After finishing a collegiate career at the Naval Academy that netted him three All-American selections and the school’s all-time goals scored record, Nicolao has continued his success by leading the Tigers to a collective 399-143 (.763) record in his 10 years at Princeton. In the process, he has won one national coach of the year award and a handful of Collegiate Water Polo Association Eastern and Southern coach of the year awards.

Players said that when it comes to coaching, Nicolao is more West Coast calm than military strict.

“Coach normally seems pretty relaxed around us and lets us figure out our own mistakes,” sophomore utility Helen Meigs said. “You see a little bit of the Navy side of him when it comes to conditioning, but otherwise he is pretty chill.”

Born in Brazil to legendary Argentinean swimmer Luis Nicolao, he moved to San Jose, Calif. at a very young age. Though he grew up in the water polo mecca that is the Bay Area, he did not start playing the sport until his freshman year of high school. His talents were soon recognized, however, and he was named a high school All-American twice and led Bellarmine Prep to several local championships.

At Navy he found even greater success. Nicolao led the Midshipmen to two Eastern Championships and three NCAA tournament appearances in his collegiate career. He graduated in 1992, earning Navy’s Athletic Association Sword as the top graduating male athlete. The next year Nicolao won a gold medal with the U.S. national team at the World University Games.


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