- Patrick Barron/Daily
By Brad Whipple, Daily Sports Writer
Published February 23, 2014
Wednesday, Michigan water polo coach Matt Anderson said his team would be completely focused against Indiana in the annual Fluid Four tournament Saturday in Bloomington.
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But that was far from the case.
The 20th-seeded Wolverines (0-2 Collegiate Water Polo Association, 3-10 overall) battled for a close 7-6 win over California-Baptist with the help of a sound defense and aggressive offense. But against the 15th-ranked Hoosiers, they lost their composure and strayed from the original plan of attack in a 12-5 loss.
“I think they lost focus on what we wanted to do,” Anderson said. “They worried about what Indiana was going to do. We allowed Indiana to be the aggressor, and that’s why they jumped on us.”
The last competition against the Hoosiers (2-0, 10-2) on Jan. 18 saw a young Michigan team shocked and awed by the veteran experience of its rival. This time around, the seniority remained an advantage, but didn’t have as large of an effect. This time around, it was almost entirely a mental game.
The Wolverines hadn’t seen film on Cal-Baptist and went in somewhat unaware of what to expect beforehand, which turned in their favor because they focused on themselves rather than predicting their opponent. With Indiana, a rival Michigan has watched film on and played against previously, the intimidation was present, and the Wolverines tried too much to envisage what would happen rather than be the aggressor and take control of the game.
Despite freshman goalkeeper Emily Browning making seven saves, the defense was nowhere near seamless because of a lack of focus.
Indiana’s Jessica Gaudreault, the goalie on the Canadian National Team, made 13 saves with a versatile offense in front of her. Attacker Shae Fournier, now one of the best players in Hoosier history after earning the all-time scoring record of 247 goals, initiated the ensuing offensive domination with the first tally of the game.
Indiana jumped out to a 4-1 lead at halftime, the Wolverines’ sole goal coming from sophomore two-meter Barbara Lanier. Michigan fell into a deficit it couldn’t dig itself out of, and a 2-for-2 power-play unit in the third frame wouldn’t cut it close in the final minutes.
“Had we jumped out to a 4-1 lead, we would’ve controlled the game, and we would’ve pulled away,” Anderson said. “It’s not rocket science that when you fall behind early to a good team, it’s going to be a struggle to get it back.”
The bright spot of the weekend for the Wolverines was their win over Cal-Baptist (7-7). Michigan posted an early lead with sophomore driver Ali Thomason scoring on the counter-attack, though the one-goal advantage disappeared as the Lancers responded with two goals to go up, 2-1.
In the last minute and a half of the first quarter, the Wolverines took back the lead, 3-2, with goals from senior driver Audrey Pratt and senior attacker Kelsey Nolan.
Michigan dominated the rest of the game and never fell behind, due in part to Browning’s performance in the net. She played the entirety of both games this weekend and recorded nine saves against the Lancers.
Cal-Baptist pulled within one in the last minute and almost managed to tie it up to force overtime, but sophomore driver Presley Pender blocked the tying shot from the left post and gave the Wolverines their third win.
After the Fluid Four last season, Michigan went 4-9. This year’s record since the early season tournament is nearly the same, and the team has hit a turning point in the recent four-game stretch. As the wins start to come, the losses are being decided by closer margins.
But against Indiana, the Wolverines hit a roadblock and lost sight of what needed to be done.