Wolverines fall to Princeton in conference title game

Patrick Barron/Daily
Buy this photo

By Lev Facher, Daily Sports Writer
Published April 28, 2013

Fans inside Canham Natatorium this weekend taking in the CWPA Eastern Championship tournament might have had to do a double take to make sure the water in the pool was liquid, not ice.

“Goalie-sieve” chants, the Blues Brothers dance and a maize and blue-clad Stormtrooper gave the Michigan water polo team’s home pool an atmosphere more commonly experienced around the corner at Yost Ice Arena.

Buoyed by the home crowd, the Wolverines (5-2 CWPA West, 20-13 overall) defeated Brown and Indiana to advance to the final before falling on Sunday to Princeton, 7-5.

In Friday evening’s quarterfinal, No. 4-seed Michigan defeated Brown, 11-7. Senior attacker Kiki Golden netted five goals for the Wolverines, helping them jump out to a 6-0 lead late in the first quarter.

The Bears countered with a rally of their own, scoring four unanswered goals and narrowing the gap to 8-5 by halftime. But they couldn’t make another run in the second half, as freshman driver Presley Pender’s marker midway through the fourth quarter gave Michigan a commanding four-goal lead and ended up being the game’s final goal.

On Saturday, the Wolverines’ focus turned to No. 1-seed Indiana, the third meeting of the year between the two schools. Michigan took the first game on March 30, 10-9, while the Hoosiers struck for a victory on April 13, 10-7.

“We knew we had the advantage,” said Michigan coach Matt Anderson. “The second game (against Indiana) didn’t really mean anything. All it did was give us a chance to examine a bit more about what we needed to do to beat them.”

In front of a frenzied home crowd, the Wolverines fell behind quickly on two Indiana goals in the first quarter, but Pender cut the deficit to one with her goal in the period’s final minute.

In the second quarter, junior attacker Kelsey Nolan scored twice, preventing the Hoosiers from stretching their lead. Golden’s laser from the left side couldn’t find the net with a minute left, leaving Michigan behind by a goal at halftime.

But an Indiana goal with 3:23 remaining in the third quarter gave the Hoosiers a 5-3 advantage, and caused senior goalkeeper Alex Adamson to sink into the pool, eyes closed, out of frustration.

Adamson’s emotions didn’t reflect her performance, though. The Coronado, Calif.-native was brilliant on the day, stopping multiple close-range efforts from the Hoosiers and recording 11 saves, including four in the fourth quarter that allowed Michigan to stage a comeback.

Trailing by two with a minute remaining in the third period, freshman driver Ali Thomason rose impossibly high out of the water to pick off an Indiana lob over the middle, feeding junior attacker Hathaway Moore down the left side for a cross-cage strike that cut Indiana’s lead to one.

Golden tied the game on a power-play goal from the left side with 5:47 remaining in the final period. Just 27 seconds later, Thomason recorded the game-winner.

Adamson managed to stop all three last-ditch shot attempts from the Hoosiers, giving Anderson an excuse to dance wildly on the Michigan sideline, weaving through a sea of celebrating players on the bench, many of whom jumped into the water to join their teammates.

“This is the tournament that matters,” Golden said. “We beat them when it counts.”

But the Wolverines couldn’t finish the job. In the championship game, with an NCAA tournament bid on the line, Michigan took an early 2-0 lead against Princeton on goals from Thomason and freshman two-meter Bryce Beckwith. But the Tigers took advantage of a pair of six-on-five opportunities soon thereafter to tie the game at two.

Pender added a goal with 1:23 remaining in the first quarter, but once again, the Tigers responded quickly, tying the game at three just 18 seconds later.

Michigan failed to score in the second period, allowing Princeton to gain a 5-3 advantage at halftime. The Tigers scored again in the third period, making a Wolverine comeback seem improbable.

Unfazed by the pressure, Pender converted a penalty shot with 6:41 remaining in the final quarter, bringing Michigan within two. Her left-to-right, cross-net strike with just 43 seconds remaining gave her a hat trick, her fourth of the season, and renewed the Wolverines’ hopes.

A Princeton goal with 18 seconds left sealed the Tigers’ victory, though, earning them a trip to Boston next week for the NCAA Tournament.

“You move around and move laterally and you’re going to be successful,” Anderson said. “We weren’t able to do that.

“I really expected that game to go to overtime, but unfortunately, we had a couple looks that we weren’t able to finish.”

Princeton goalie Ashleigh Johnson was dominant for the Tigers, stopping 15 Michigan shots. She was named the tournament’s Most Valuable Player.

“Our shot selection definitely could’ve been better,” Golden said. “We wanted to put some balls on the water and we kept shooting high.

“Our game plan was to drive, and we got away from that.”