By Brad Whipple, Daily Sports Writer
Published March 6, 2014
After the No. 20 Michigan water polo team lost seven of its first eight games, it looked as though the Wolverines were on track to their first-ever losing season in the program’s 13-year history.
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But training in Montreal with the Canadian national team for several days this week following a four-win weekend has put the team back on what looks to be a promising track to another winning season.
“We really mentally flipped a switch in Thousand Oaks,” said senior attacker Hathaway Moore. “I think that was really that midpoint where we were like, ‘alright, go time.’ Right now, we’re all great mentally and physically.”
On Saturday, Michigan (0-2 CWPA West Division, 7-10 overall) heads to Cambridge, Mass., for the Harvard Invitational to battle Harvard (7-3) and Marist (4-9). Sunday, the Wolverines will face their 12th ranked opponent of the season, No. 17 San Diego State (8-6).
For a team that initially struggled to find its way, this week’s trip to Canada has given the team confidence it needs to even this season’s record.
“We’re going to take the energy and enthusiasm into Boston,” Moore said.
This year’s retreat was made possible by Michigan coach Matt Anderson’s close relationship with Canadian coach Guy Baker. Baker previously headed the United States women’s national water polo team and led the Americans to win two silver medals and a bronze in the last fourteen years. And for some Wolverines, the Canadian territory is all too familiar — junior driver Danielle Robinson hails from British Columbia.
Michigan got the chance to play full-game scrimmages against the Canadian squad as opposed to conditioning drills.
“It is daunting to think you’re playing a team that could potentially be playing in Rio (de Janeiro) in a couple of years,” Moore said. “But we really took it to them, and I was really proud of our team. No one played timid.”
Up against elite players, the Wolverines had to adjust to facing a style of play head-and-shoulders above the collegiate level that also happened to be taller than Michigan. The Wolverines adapted nicely to the obstacle and could run the quick plays they were used to. Anderson was proud that his team didn’t show hesitation.
“Even the young players came out and were playing with gusto,” Moore said. “Being able to get kind of pushed around by them and adjusting our play and really working to have that aggressive mentality and sight for it is going to pay off when we then come down to college level.”
And those young players will need to rise to the occasion this weekend for any chance at succeeding. Michgan has just three seniors and two juniors, which places a lot of pressure on the underclassmen to perform to the extreme. Freshman attacker Allison Skaggs is leading by example, earning CWPA West Division Rookie of the Week after a 10-goal weekend.
Mechanical and strategic improvements aside, the trip to Canada represented something even more valuable to Moore and her teammates: the opportunity to form a closer relationship with teammates, as well as the Canadians who participated.
“When you get extended amount of time (on a trip) and you’re literally spending 24/7 with these girls, you just get to know them on a deeper level,” Moore said. “It definitely helps your connection with them in the water.
“My throat was hurting by the end of the night because I was screaming so loud.”
Moore returned last weekend from a month-long injury, calling it “killer” not to play the first half of her final year. She gave a sigh of relief when asked how it felt to be back, saying it’s the “best feeling in the world” to be back with her sisters.
And that feeling could be even sweeter if she can help the Wolverines get back to their winning ways.