After getting off to a roaring start on Sunday, it looked like the No. 6 Michigan water polo team was on course to pull off a major win over No. 4 California after netting wins over two ranked teams that same weekend. But the Wolverines ultimately succumbed after suffering a series of scoring droughts in the second half, falling, 7-11, to the Golden Bears, bringing an end to Michigan’s seven-game winning streak.
The Wolverines (14-8) won possession to start their match against California (12-3) on Sunday in the Golden Bears’ Spieker Aquatics Complex. In the first 30 seconds, Michigan ran a set play to carry the ball towards their opponent’s goal. Freshman attacker Abby Andrews managed to get separation from her defender and took in a pass from her teammate. Andrews feigned a few shot-fakes before sending the ball flying towards the top corner of the net, securing a goal for the Wolverines on the first possession of the match.
That goal was followed by another from senior Kim Johnson. A few minutes later, senior Julia Sellers found the back of the net to bring Michigan’s lead up to 3-0.
The Wolverines led for most of the game. They entered the second half with a 6-4 lead, and ended the third quarter up, 7-6. It was in the fourth quarter, though, that Michigan faltered, allowing five goals and failing to score.
“We earned some really great exclusions and had a really great defensive game the first three quarters,” Andrews said. “But then, unfortunately, we just couldn’t keep it together for the fourth quarter and we kind of let it roll away.”
Andrews played a crucial role in the Wolverines’ strong start, scoring a goal in each of the first three quarters.
“I’m really happy with Abby Andrews, I thought she played fantastic,” said Michigan coach Marcelo Leonardi. “Maddy Steere stepped up pretty well. But collectively, I thought our team defense did really, really well for the first three quarters for a team that scores a lot. But unfortunately, we ended up losing out.”
California’s Brigit Mulder was responsible for much of Michigan’s defensive woes later in the match, scoring three goals in the second half alone.
Despite the Wolverines’ collapse to lose the match, there was plenty for the team to take pride in. The close loss to the Golden Bears came at the tail end of a successful performance by a Michigan team that faced a gauntlet of ranked teams on the road this weekend. On Friday the Wolverines beat No. 13 Fresno State, and on Saturday they beat No. 7 Pacific.
“There are very few teams in the country that do what we just did,” Leonardi said. “In terms of going to three different venues, going to each lion’s den, and competing with the best in the country… it shows us for the rest of the season where we’re going to be later on.”
Leonardi said that going forward the team would focus on getting stops in crunch-time moments and producing on offense, areas that ultimately cost Michigan on Sunday.
“Cal might be a team that we end up facing in the NCAAs,” Andrews said. “The fact that we could be ahead for three solid quarters without questioning their play, everything was going well, and I think everyone’s confidence is up. And obviously, now we just need to go back and focus on how to execute in that fourth quarter.”