A 2-2 weekend still isn’t quite the result the Michigan water polo team is after, but given the season’s disappointing start, it’ll take it happily.
The Wolverines (3-8) split doubleheaders on Saturday and Sunday and took 10th place overall at the Triton Invitational Tournament in San Diego.
“This is where I was hoping we would have been three weeks ago,” said Michigan coach Matt Anderson.
Michigan came out aggressively and maintained offensive pressure throughout the weekend — moreso than in previous games this season — and racked up 43 goals in four games to break a seven-game losing streak Saturday afternoon.
“It feels really good,” said freshman Ali Thomason. “Our communication has gotten better. You need to play 100 percent, everyone needs to, and I think that’s one reason why we’ve been able to play a lot better.”
On Saturday, Michigan opened with an early afternoon matchup against Long Beach State, in which senior attacker Kiki Golden and sophomore attacker Elizabeth Williams each scored twice. Thomason scored the first goal of her collegiate career, but it came in a losing effort, as the 49ers scored three goals in the fourth quarter to pull out an 8-6 win.
Late Saturday, the Wolverines picked up just their second win of the season, riding hat tricks from Golden and Thomason for an 11-6 victory over Santa Clara. Despite the wide margin, the contest was competitive until the fourth quarter, in which Michigan scored four times and took advantage of Thomason’s second and third goals to ice the victory.
“(Thomason) had a great weekend,” Anderson said, “And it’s what we expected out of her when we recruited her.”
The presence of the freshman class was key over the weekend, and though it had become the Wolverines’ biggest issue in the early season, its youth was a highlight of the weekend.
“When you’re a freshman you’re not going to grasp certain concepts in my system as well as you will (in later years),” Anderson said. “The important thing is to stay aggressive no matter what — if you’re more aggressive you’re more likely to understand those concepts.”
Anderson also expressed relief that his team’s early-season dependence on Golden has seemingly worn off and that the freshman class is showing more aggression.
“Our problem the first two tournaments was that people thought, ‘Oh, Kiki (Golden) will get the job done,’ ” Anderson said. “We blew up the starting and playing rotation and really challenged the players to prove that they should be out there.”
On Sunday, Michigan scored 15 goals against California State East Bay, five of which came from Golden. Freshman Presley Pender and freshman Bryce Beckwith added hat tricks, and the Wolverines never relinquished the two-goal lead that they built in the second quarter.
“No matter who we play or where we play them, Kiki is going to dominate,” Anderson said, continually citing the senior as a leader and consistent foundation for his young, still-evolving squad. “Now, everybody is stepping up to try and get the job done.”
Sunday evening, Michigan came up just short of a 3-1 tournament record, falling to Loyola Marymount, 9-7. The Lions held onto a two-goal lead in the fourth quarter and managed to match the Wolverines’ three goals, which included freshman Barbara Lanier’s first in NCAA competition. Golden, Thomason, and four others scored a goal each.
“The last one was a heartbreaker,” Thomason said. “We just couldn’t finish. We were getting opportunities and couldn’t put them away.”