Michigan, Indiana gear up for rivalry matchup

Patrick Barron/Daily
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By Lev Facher, Daily Sports Writer
Published March 28, 2013

Michigan State doesn’t play women’s water polo. Neither does Notre Dame. Ohio State fields pistol, rifle and synchronized swimming teams. Water polo? Not in Columbus.

But Michigan doesn’t care. It doesn’t matter that none of the Wolverines’ traditional rivals compete in the sport — this Saturday’s game against No. 12 Indiana marks the latest edition of a rivalry as fierce and significant as any involving a Michigan team. It’s one that’s been referred to as being among the best in water polo today.

In a sport dominated by teams and players on the country’s coasts, the 18th-ranked Wolverines (1-0 Collegiate Water Polo Association, 13-10 overall) and Hoosiers have gained notoriety by creating a well-known rivalry right here in the Midwest.

“Indiana being the only other team (we play against) in the Big Ten makes it a natural rivalry,” said senior driver Natalie Naruns. “Every year, both teams come out to play.”

Fueling the contentiousness are Michigan coach Matt Anderson’s Indiana ties — he worked as an assistant for Indiana coach Barry King before taking the helm in Ann Arbor in 2003.

Though the rivalry has been intense throughout its 12-year history, it has evolved significantly over time. In 2001, the Wolverine roster featured 12 Michigan natives. This year’s features only three, as Anderson has taken advantage of the program’s national growth. He now recruits heavily in the more talent-rich San Francisco Bay and Los Angeles areas, where water polo is an established and popular high-school sport.

Similarly, the Hoosier roster is without a real Hoosier — for Saturday’s matchup in Bloomington, not a single player from either team will be playing in their home state.

Interestingly, though, many of the Michigan and Indiana players are familiar with one another from their pre-college years, despite the vast majority of them being from non-Midwestern states.

Freshman goalie Hayden Green played with the Hoosiers’ Hallie Lindsey at El Segundo High School in southern California. Freshman driver Ali Thomason and Indiana’s Rebecca Gerrity both attended Marin Catholic High School in San Rafael, Calif., before coming east to compete against one another in the CWPA. And those are just a few of the examples from Michigan’s notably large freshman class.

Naruns expects the atmosphere to play a large role in Saturday’s game.

“It’s tough playing in Bloomington,” Naruns said. “They pack the house. They bring a ton of fans and students that make a lot of noise at these games.”

The Wolverines have been unfazed by the hostile atmosphere in the past, though, as Michigan is 4-1 in its five most recent matchups against Indiana in Bloomington.

That dominance is no fluke, either. The Wolverines hold a commanding 31-9-1 all-time record against the Hoosiers.

Michigan knows what to expect from Indiana, even though the two schools have yet to face off this season. The Hoosiers traveled to Ann Arbor in January to participate in the Michigan Kick-Off Tournament, giving the Wolverines a chance to get a glimpse of their style of play despite the fact that the two teams didn’t play one another.

“Indiana is definitely a defensive team,” said Colton. “They have some great shot blockers.”

Colton expects the game to be close, as it historically has been —nearly half of the 41 all-time matchups between the two schools have been decided by a single goal.

Michigan is riding a nine-game winning streak into Saturday’s showdown, but they seem sufficiently motivated regardless of the fact that their confidence is at a season high.

“This is it,” Colton said. “The first two months of our season matter, but not nearly as much as this does.”