On Saturday, Saint Francis (Pa.) was ill-prepared for the Michigan water polo team’s suffocating defense, going scoreless until the final minute of the fourth quarter. The final score told a story of a massive disparity in play, and the Wolverines won, 18-1. The Red Flash (9-20 overall, 0-2 CWPA) took just 12 shots the entire game, to the Wolverines’ 31. Later that day, Michigan faced Brown (15-11, 0-3) and brought the same high-level performance, winning 21-2.
The pair of commanding victories came on the opening day of a weekend in which the sixth-ranked Wolverines (18-8, 3-0) traveled to Boston to start conference play at Harvard’s Blodgett Pool. The first day was characterized by total dominance on both offense and defense for Michigan against its conference opponents. Sunday saw a far closer 9-6 battle against No. 15 Princeton, in which Michigan ultimately prevailed. With their strong showing, the Wolverines are now 3-0 in conference play.
Senior Julia Sellers was a force on offense in the first two games, scoring three goals against Saint Francis and a career-high six against Brown, including four straight in the first quarter.
“She was the cog that carried us on the offensive end,” said Michigan coach Marcelo Leonardi. “Generating a lot of one-on-nobodies, a lot of exclusions, a lot of scoring opportunities for others as well.”
While the first two opponents offered little resistance, the team knew it would have to be ready for a tenacious Princeton team.
“I wanted to make sure that our bench got a lot of minutes early on in the first two games,” Leonardi said. “And then the third game we were fresh enough to play.”
Against Princeton, it initially looked as if the Wolverines might run away with the win again, getting off to a 5-1 lead in the second quarter. But unlike Michigan’s first two opponents, the Tigers rallied on offense, with five players each scoring goals, as they cut the deficit to 8-6 with roughly three minutes remaining in the game.
Just as it looked as though the Tigers might tie the game in regulation, Sellers managed to draw a penalty during a breakaway. On the subsequent penalty shot, Junior Maddy Steere secured a hat trick and put the game out of reach for Princeton with a goal.
“You win by one, you win by 20 it’s still a win,” Leonardi said. “I felt composure-wise in the fourth quarter we did a good job of just showing a bit of maturity and composure to finish the game off.”
Much of Michigan’s success against Princeton was due to the team’s effectiveness in drawing penalties and converting them. Senior Kim Johnson stood out as she drew six exclusions and three penalties, and Steere scored on three of the four 5-meter penalties in the game.
Leonardi attributes much of the team’s poise and success this weekend to the difficult road schedule the team has endured this season. Three weeks prior, the Wolverines traveled to California to face a gauntlet of three ranked teams in a single weekend. Michigan has now played 23 games against ranked teams this season and won 15 of them.
After a strong conference debut, the Wolverines will emphasize cleaning up their play and improving game-time decision-making as they approach the end of regular season conference play and the upcoming CWPA and NCAA championships.
“We went 3-0, which is always important,” Leonardi said. “We also got a lot of minutes for our second and third teams and then our first unit got challenged against Princeton. So, I felt overall we had a good weekend.”