It has been a short road back to prominence for the Michigan water polo team. After earning a share of the regular-season CWPA Championship a year ago under then-first year coach Marcelo Leonardi, the sixth-ranked Wolverines have eclipsed the marks set by last year’s squad. Michigan (7-0 CWPA, 26-6 overall) reached the 25-win mark for the first time since 2011 with wins over Bucknell, No. 21 Hartwick, George Washington and Brown, going undefeated in conference play to earn the CWPA Championship outright.
But, the turnaround has come as no surprise to those in the program. Leonardi attributes this to three major points.
“(First), I was able to bring a quality freshman class and a transfer (to the team) that immediately impacted our program,” Leonardi said. “(Secondly), going through my first year being able to teach everything in terms of our system and play (has helped). Also, the leadership, in terms of our senior leadership this year, being able to establish a culture (has been) instrumental.”
One of those seniors, attacker Ali Thomason, has been especially impressive for the Wolverines this season. Her talent was on display this weekend. Sunday, in Michigan’s 18-3 win over Brown, Thomason scored five goals, had three assists and added three steals.
The senior’s performance added on to an already impressive resume this season. Thomason has won the CWPA Player of the Week award twice and leads the Wolverines with 81 goals.
“I think she’s probably the best player in our conference, athletic-wise,” Leonardi said. “In terms of (being) a leader in and out of the water, and how humble she is in terms of all of the accolades she will be (garnering). It’s easy when the hardest worker on your team is one of the best players on the team.”
Though Thomason is the leading goal scorer on the team, she is often helped by sophomore attacker Caroline Anderson’s prominent passing abilities.
Anderson surpassed her own single-season assists record by recording her 57th of the year Saturday in the Wolverines’ 16-4 win over Bucknell.
“She’s sharpening up her skills by her accuracy,” Leonardi said. “In terms of her reads, I think she’s understanding the plays now a little more systematically. (She’s) understanding where her options are. If her first option’s not there, where are her second and third options.”
Michigan now has a 12-day break before it travels to Cambridge, Mass., for the CWPA Championships. And though it has had great success this season, the conference tournament has tripped up the Wolverines in the past.
“We need to see who we’re going to play, not only in the first round, but later on in terms of who our semifinal matchup would be as well,” Leonardi said.
Michigan will need to win just three games in order to win the CWPA Tournament. If it is able to do that, the Wolverines will move on to the NCAA Championships, something they haven't done since the 2009-10 season.
But if the quick turnaround under Leonardi is any indication, it will be no surprise if the Wolverines are able to prove themselves on yet another level.