Michigan ends losing streak but relapses once more

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By Brad Whipple, Daily Sports Writer
Published February 16, 2014

The last time the Michigan water polo team had won a game was Jan. 18, the season opener. But Michigan coach Matt Anderson said it felt like it had been a year.

After almost a two-week hiatus from the pool, the 20th-ranked Wolverines traveled to Pennsylvania for another weekend of ranked opponents in the Bison Invitational, and emerged with a long-sought victory.

Saturday, Michigan dropped its first match, 13-7, against No. 13 UC San Diego to extend its month-long losing streak to seven. But later that night, the Wolverines managed to pull through with a 9-8 win against No. 20 Wagner.

Sunday, Michigan (2-9) suffered two losses to No. 20 Hartwick and No. 8 Princeton, 12-10 in double overtime and 8-6, respectively.

While the Wolverines’ defense has remained consistent, the last month has been marked with trouble creating quality scoring chances to narrow late-game deficits. Anderson found the answer Saturday night against Wagner (5-6).

“It’s not rocket science,” Anderson said. “When you’re in a funk, you’ve got to do something. Ours was we had to change the lineup.”

Anderson doesn’t reveal his starters until the team is about to take the pool, forcing the players to mentally prepare themselves in case they’re the ones to dive in. Against the Seahawks, he chose five players who hadn’t started all season.

After trailing 6-4 at halftime, sophomore driver Presley Pender began the comeback with three minutes to go in the third quarter when she found the back of the net on a 5-meter penalty shot. The Wolverines tallied twice more in the final minutes before the start of the final frame to take a one-goal advantage.

Halfway through the fourth quarter, the Seahawks managed to even the score, but Michigan quickly responded with a power-play goal from senior attacker Kelsey Nolan and another tally from sophomore two-meter Barbara Lanier. Freshman goalkeeper Emily Browning made two saves at the end to ensure the Wolverines’ win and earn her starting position going forward.

Hours before taking on Wagner, Michigan dropped a match to UC San Diego (9-3). Anderson attributed the loss to sloppiness on offense, with the Wolverines turning over their first five possessions to let the Tritons take an early 3-0 lead.

“If the first period is tied 1-1 and we space those turnovers out, it’s probably a one-goal game,” Anderson said. “When you dig yourself a hole like that against a very good team, it makes the hill a little harder to climb because it gives them momentum.”

Browning was given a rest, and in her place, sophomore goalkeeper Julia Campbell made four saves.

One of Anderson’s five new starters is Lanier. Though Michigan couldn’t make a comeback, Lanier had a career-high five goals. Anderson thinks she has improved dramatically over the last three weeks, something he didn’t expect to happen so rapidly.

With Sunday’s losses against Hartwick (8-5) and Princeton (7-0), the Wolverines regressed back to a two-match losing streak despite the previous night’s win. The game against the Hawks went into double overtime, and Anderson called it “unbelievable” that they lost after such a close game.

Looking forward, Anderson wants to work on the spacing of his players in the pool so that they have more room to operate at a faster pace. According to the coach, the biggest focus on improving defense is one-on-one matchups, positioning and not allowing the referees to take control of the game.

“I don’t think the No. 8 team in the nation expected us to go toe-to-toe with them for 32 minutes,” Anderson said. “But I sure as hell expected it.

“We just sent the message that from where we were two weeks ago in Stanford, we’re not that team anymore. Teams better be ready, because we’re rapidly improving.”