Its season may not start until January, but the Michigan women’s water polo team looked to make a preseason splash this weekend as it got back in the water for a five-game exhibition series at the 2018 Collegiate Cup in Irvine, Calif. The Wolverines were victorious against the University of Hawaii and Pacific Unversity but fell to the New York Athletic Club, Southern California and California, taking seventh in the tournament.
Michigan coach Marcelo Leonardi emphasized the importance of exposing his team to high-caliber opponents in the preseason: “(It) provides high-level competition in a November setting early on. If you want to play and compete with the best, the majority of the teams are from California … it gives us a chance to travel and prep and go through something similar to in-season.”
Leonardi’s expectations for the Wolverines are high going into his fifth season as Michigan’s head coach. Last season, the Wolverines went 32-9, won the CWPA Championship — its third straight — and made it to the quarterfinals of the NCAA Tournament.
With six returning starters this year, Leonardi will be looking towards some strong veteran leadership to push his team to new heights this year.
“This season, we are a little bit more seasoned in terms of age,” Leonardi said. “We bring a lot back from last year’s run.”
Led by three senior captains, attacker Julia Sellers — the 2018 CWPA tournament MVP — utility Kim Johnson and attacker Delaney Cleveland, the team is eager to build off last season’s impressive finish.
Michigan began early Saturday morning against the New York Athletic Club. By halftime, NYAC led 5-4, with Melissa Seidermann and Michigan junior attacker Skylar Pyle each contributing two goals to their respective teams. However, NYAC pulled away in the second half and went on to score nine unanswered goals to defeat the Wolverines, 14-5.
In its second game of the day, Michigan faced off against the University of Hawaii. The Wolverines trailed the Rainbow Warriors 4-2 at the end of the third quarter but rallied to tie the game up 6-6 with two minutes left. A last-second goal by Pyle with only 18 seconds remaining in the game gave the Wolverines the 7-6 win in an exciting, competitive battle.
“My teammates just did a great job setting me up (for the game-winning goal),” Pyle said. “… We have been anxiously waiting to play games, we have been practicing since school started. Being able to see how we match up against really great teams has just been awesome.”
Michigan faced Southern California in its final Saturday matchup. Despite a valiant effort by the Wolverines, the Trojans came out victorious, defeating Michigan 10-1. Southern California driver Paige Hauschild notched four goals en route to her team’s win.
On Sunday, the Wolverines first battled against the California Golden Bears in a high-scoring, back-and-forth matchup. Tied 12-12 at the end of the fourth quarter, extra time was required to settle the contest. However, California defeated Michigan 4-2 in the shootout.
In the Wolverines’ final game of the weekend, they faced Pacific University in the tournament’s seventh-place game. Four quarters once again could not settle the game, as the two teams were tied 9-9 going into the shootout. This time, the Wolverines redeemed themselves, winning the shootout 4-3.
“With each game, we are growing more and more comfortable,” Leonardi said.
Come regular season, the comfort gained from battling prime opponents in a competetive setting could prove vital to the team’s future success.