Water polo opens season on sour note at Michigan Kick-Off Tournament

By Lev Facher, Daily Sports Writer
Published January 21, 2013

Any one of the many shots the Michigan women’s water polo team took in overtime could have ended up a few inches further towards the inside of the post, or below the crossbar. The Wolverines could have emerged from their season-opening tournament with a split and a victory over a top-10 opponent.

They came across no such luck, though, as they fell to San Diego State, 11-10, after two three-minute overtime periods on Sunday, capping a disappointing weekend at the Michigan Kick-Off event.

The Wolverines posted a 15-9 win over Colorado State in their season opener before facing off against much tougher competition, coming in the form of three highly ranked California schools: No. 3 UCLA, No. 7 San Diego State and No. 9 San Jose State.

On Saturday, senior attacker Kiki Golden scored four times, and senior two-meter Lauren Colton added three goals of her own. Junior attacker Kelsey Nolan and junior driver Audrey Pratt also scored three times on the day as well to cement the victory against Colorado State and keep Michigan competitive during the early stages of the matchup against the Bruins.

Michigan managed to keep things close for the first quarter against UCLA before allowing nine unanswered goals in the final three, giving the Bruins a 12-3 win. Nolan accounted for two of the Wolverines’ three scores, including her goal with 1:27 remaining in the first period that tied the game at three. Michigan failed to score again.

“We don’t mind the losses now,” said Michigan coach Matt Anderson, citing the matchups against three top-10 opponents as an opportunity to improve as a team and allow the sizeable freshman class to gain quality playing experience.

On Sunday morning, Michigan faced off against the Spartans. San Jose State jumped out to a 4-1 lead at halftime, a deficit the Wolverines were unable to overcome. Nolan and Golden scored two goals apiece, and freshman two-meter Bryce Beckwith added her third goal of the young season in the second half. The Spartans played Michigan evenly throughout the second half, but hung on to claim a 9-6 victory.

“It’s the beginning of the season, the first tournament,” Golden said. “This is kind of just feeling it out and learning to play with each other.”

In the weekend’s final contest, the Wolverines turned in what Anderson considered their best performance of the tournament, jumping out to a 4-2 lead after one period against the Aztecs. However, the Wolverines allowed four goals in the second period, giving San Diego State a 6-5 advantage at halftime. Michigan fell further behind in the third period, only to whittle the Aztecs’ lead down to one goal with less than two minutes to play.

Freshman attacker Kelly Martin drew a penalty with just four seconds remaining for Michigan and scored on a skip shot to the right side of the goal. The Aztecs called timeout, but failed to score in the remaining seconds, sending the game to overtime.

“It was great, especially when they got up by four,” Anderson said of Michigan’s comeback. "We could’ve rolled over. Instead, we kept going 100 percent. We had the first opportunity to win it, they had the last, and unfortunately it went in.”

Pratt, Golden, and freshman driver Presley Pender each scored twice in regulation, but Michigan was unable to score throughout the four overtime periods. The Aztecs’ Bailey Wickliffe eventually scored the winning goal on a fast break with 1:17 remaining in the second sudden-death overtime period, ending the Wolverines’ weekend on a disappointing note.

“When you go to double-sudden death with the No. 7 team in the final game of the tournament, that means you’re getting better, and that’s what matters,” Anderson said.

Added Golden: “I’m just proud of our team for working for four quarters, two overtimes and then the sudden death. We got better over the weekend, and we’ll get better over the course of the season.”