Prior to taking the helm for the Mids, Nicolao served as the head coach for both the Princeton University men's and women's water polo programs for 20 seasons. During his tenure with the Tigers, he posted a combined 844-312 (.730) record. Under his tutelage, the men's team held a 402-163 (.712) overall mark, while the women amassed a 442-149 (.748) ledger.
Nicolao, the Association of Collegiate Water Polo Coaches Men's National Coach of the Year in 2004, also has five Eastern Coach of the Year awards split between the men and the women (Men: 2004, `09, `11; Women: 2001, `07). Additionally, he has garnered Southern Coach of the Year honors on seven occasions (Men: 2001, `03, `08; Women: 2001, `05, `06, `13).
He has directed the Princeton men to nine Southern titles (1999, `01, `03, `04, `08, `10, `11, `14, `15), four Eastern crowns (2004, `09, `11, `15) and made four NCAA Tournament appearances (2004, `09, `11, `15). The women have nine Southern titles to their credit (1999, `01, `04, `05, `06, `08, `12, `13, `14), four Eastern crowns (2000, `12, `13, `15) and three NCAA berths (2012, `13, `15).
Collectively, Nicolao coached 29 Princeton student-athletes to a combined 65 All-America accolades with 15 men's team members collecting 34 All-America honors and 14 women tallying 31 All-America distinctions. In addition, he oversaw eight men's water polo players who earned Collegiate Water Polo Association (CWPA) Southern Player of the Year honors and a pair of CWPA Rookies of the Year. On the women's side, Nicolao coached six different student-athletes to a total of 12 CWPA Southern Player of the Year accolades with an additional two players claiming rookie of the year laurels.
Princeton went 22-6 during the 2017 season, reaching the Northeast Water Polo Conference (NWPC) Championship game. The Tigers defeated four California teams and eight ranked opponents during the 2017 campaign, finishing No. 14 in the final varsity poll. Princeton had three All-Conference performers and three All-Americans honorees. In addition, Nicolao reached 400 career wins with the men's squad this year.
On the women's side, the Tigers finished the 2017 season at 24-4 and reached the CWPA Championship game. It was the fifth time in the last six seasons that Princeton reached the 20-win milestone. Nicolao's unit won 12 games vs. ranked opponents and seven contests vs. California teams. Princeton had two All-Americans including goalkeeper Ashleigh Johnson, who was the first player in Princeton women's water polo history to be named first team All-America. The goalie was the third Princeton player ever to be picked as All-American in each of her four seasons and was the first Princeton water polo player to ever play in the Olympics, earning a gold medal in 2016.
During the 2015 season, the men's team went 22-5 overall and 8-0 in Collegiate Water Polo Association (CWPA) Southern Division play. The team went on to win the CWPA Southern Division for the second straight season and capture the CWPA Championship.
In 2014, the men's squad posted a 23-4 mark, captured their eight Southern title and advanced to their second-consecutive CWPA championship game. Three different Tigers garnered All-Southern first team and honorable mention All-America accolades. On the women's side, the Tigers matched a program record with a 31-5 overall mark. Capturing its fourth Eastern Championship, Princeton secured its third NCAA Tournament berth, ultimately placing sixth overall.
2013 saw the Princeton men finished the year with a 22-6 mark, going 7-1 against Southern Division opponents. Placing third in the Southern tournament, the Orange & Black advanced to the CWPA title tilt before falling to St. Francis. On the women's side, the Tigers posted a program record 31 wins (31-2), capturing a third consecutive Southern title (ninth overall) before eventually falling to Indiana in the CWPA championship game.
The 2011-12 academic year was the most successful in Nicolao's career, as both the men's and the women's teams won the CWPA Eastern Championship to earn NCAA Tournament berths. Following the men's season, Nicolao was honored with the Monte Nitzkowski Distinguished Men's Coaching Award from USA Water Polo.
On the women's side, the squad established several program benchmarks, culminating with the team's second Eastern Championship and first-ever appearance in the NCAA Championship in 2012. Nicolao also earned his 300th career victory at the helm of the women's program by virtue of a 12-6 win over Bucknell on Feb. 24, 2012.
The 2015-16 campaign had the women's water polo team posted a third-place finish in the 2016 CWPA Championship to finish 19-7 overall. Sophomores Haley Wan, Chelsea Johnson and senior Pippa Temple were named to the All-CWPA Tournament teams. Wan and Temple were also picked to the All-CWPA second team for their stellar performances during the regular season.
Princeton women's water polo finished sixth at the NCAA Tournament in 2015. The Tigers posted a 31-5 overall mark, tying a program record for wins. Capturing their third CWPA title in four seasons (fourth overall), Princeton finished tied for sixth in the final CWPA Varsity Top-20 poll, earning the best ranking in program history.
In 2013, the women maintained their dominance in the CWPA going undefeated in Southern play (5-0) en route to the Southern Division title and Eastern Championship crown for the second consecutive season. Behind a 28-6 record, the Tigers advanced to their second NCAA tournament where they put forth a program-best fifth-place showing.
Success in the pool runs in Nicolao's family. His mother, Lee Davis, was a world-record holder in the distance freestyle while his father, Luis, was a world-record holder in the 100-butterfly. Nicolao followed suit as a two-time high school All-America in water polo, leading Bellarmine College Prep in California to its local championship each year.
As a student-athlete at Navy, Nicolao was a three-time All-American and All-East selection for the Midshipmen, graduating as the school's all-time leader in points (377) and goals scored (282). During the course of his career, Navy won two Eastern Championships (1988, `90) and reached the NCAA Tournament on three occasions (1988, `90, `91). He was named the CWPA Eastern MVP in 1990 and 1991, while earning CWPA First-Team All-East accolades for three straight seasons (1989, `90, `91). In addition, Nicolao served as the team captain as a senior during the 1991 season.
After earning the Naval Academy Athletic Association's Sword for Men as the top graduating male athlete in 1992, Nicolao assisted with the Navy water polo program as a temporary assigned duty (TAD). He was also a member of the U.S. National Team that won the gold medal at the World University Games before serving in the Navy for five years.
Nicolao returned to his alma mater's pool in 1996 as an officer representative prior to accepting the head coaching position at Princeton in 1998, while also serving as the U.S. men's national "B" team assistant coach (1998, `99).
Nicolao earned a Master's Degree in adult education from the University of Phoenix. He and his wife, Kellie, have two daughters, Madison and Morgan.