‘M’ to start season against four top-15 teams

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Michigan defends against San Diego State at Canham Natatorium on January 24, 2010. The Wolverines won 9-4. Buy this photo

For the Daily
Published January 20, 2011

Most top-tier coaches prefer to start their seasons with easier competition to build momentum during the early stages of the season.

Someone forgot to tell Michigan water polo coach Matt Anderson.

When asked about the inconceivable onslaught of games this weekend, Anderson seemed excited, to say the least. The Wolverines will take their No. 8 ranking and splash into their season this Saturday with games against No. 15 Cal State Northridge, No. 7 San Jose State, No. 4 UCLA and No. 1 Stanford.

It is understandable to be a little nervous playing such elite opponents so early in the season, but Anderson is very much looking forward to the opportunity for his team to be tested. The early season kinks that may worry some, are an opportunity for success to Anderson. In his eyes, practice can only do so much.

“I know that there are some areas we need to work on”, Anderson said Wednesday. " But until we play teams that are better than us they won’t be exposed. Practice can lull you into thinking you’ve covered everything, but then you play a team better than you are they show you what you need to work on.”

Luckily for Anderson, three of Michigan's first four games pit his team against higher-ranked opponents.

This season, the Wolverines are equipped with a bevy of talented players, including a senior class led by Alison Mantel and Lauren Orth, who are on pace to graduate with the most wins in Michigan water polo history. Last season thee duo combined for 103 goals and 88 assists.

Combine those two with a star-studded young team, including sophomore Kiki Golden and the Wolverines' chances looks bright. Last season, Golden played in every game, while scoring 39 times, tossing out 29 assists and grabbing 78 steals. All of this gives Anderson some breathing room and helps ease the pressure of playing such good competition this weekend.

“We’ll be fine," Anderson said. "This is what we do. Every year we play whomever, whenever, wherever and it doesn’t matter if its our first three games of the year. We’re No. 8 in the nation. We’ll take a loss or two, but we will have some victories and we will look to get better. If you look at our schedule, there isn’t anybody we fear and we believe that we can play with anybody.”

The game of the weekend will be the matchup against Stanford, who has received the most praise of any of Michigan’s opponents. Rather than fearing the talented Cardinal, Anderson views it as a credit to how far his Michigan program has come.

“If they (Stanford) didn’t think it was going to be a good game, they wouldn’t have flown out here to play us,” Anderson said. “That is fortunately the respect that we have earned. Teams don’t have to fly out here if they don’t want to, but they are choosing to do so. Stanford is hands down the best team in the nation, and we are going to use that game to see how we do. Hopefully we will have a chance to play them again in May when we host the final eight for the NCAA championships.”