Water polo sweeps four-game tournament in California

By Brad Whipple, Daily Sports Writer
Published March 2, 2014

A nearby storm delayed one of the Michigan water polo’s games this weekend for 20 minutes.

After the break, the sound of thunder no longer boomed across the sky, but there was another storm brewing within the pool — an overpowering one that showed no signs of being stopped.

Sunday, the real storm was the 20th-ranked Wolverines, which completed a four-game sweep of the Cal-Lutheran Invitational with identical wins over Whittier and Claremont Mudd Scripps, 14-8.

The tournament began Saturday in Thousand Oaks, Calif., and Michigan (0-2 CWPA, 7-10 overall) earned an important double-overtime win against No. 15 UC Santa Barbara, 11-10, followed by a victory over Azusa Pacific, 14-8.

“Mentally, the girls are feeling good because a ‘W’ is a ‘W,’ ” said Michigan coach Matt Anderson. “It doesn’t matter who it’s against.”

Santa Barbara (8-11) jumped to a 5-1 lead in the first quarter, and it looked like the Wolverines were going to fall victim to another large-deficit loss. But before halftime, they closed the gap with two goals in two minutes, the latter with a man advantage.

Michigan exploded offensively in the third frame, outscoring the Gauchos 4-2 and tying the game twice, but never leading. Tied at seven in the fourth quarter, Santa Barbara scored and added insurance for a two-goal lead. Senior attacker Kelsey Nolan responded twice for the Wolverines to force overtime by capitalizing on a backhand shot and a power-play opportunity, earning a season-high four-goal game.

In the first overtime, the Gauchos scored first, but sophomore driver Presley Pender quickly returned the favor. In the second overtime, Pender took an outside shot that hit the high-left corner of the net to give Michigan its first lead of the game and the win.

Defeating Santa Barbara gave the Wolverines the confidence they needed to pull off another win over Azusa Pacific (7-8), a Division II team. Michigan led comfortably the whole game due in large to Pender and Nolan, but also freshman two-meter Allison Skaggs, who earned a hat trick.

The weekend also marked the long-awaited return of senior attacker Hathaway Moore, who played Saturday after being out for a month with a broken thumb. She didn’t practice this week and was cleared to play when the team left Ann Arbor. The first shot she took was against Santa Barbara, and it found the back of the net.

Anderson said another match without Moore could’ve made or broken the weekend, because she serves as a role model of what is expected, values he feels rub off on the rest of the roster.

“She doesn’t care about how she’s doing,” Anderson said. “Everything you’re doing is for the team, and it’s not for you. That’s the element with her enthusiasm and effort that we’ve been kind of lacking.”

Sunday, the Wolverines battled Claremont (1-6) and Whittier (5-4), the No. 1 and No. 2 Division III teams, respectively. Anderson thought of both games as an opportune time to try new defensive strategies on the fly. That included giving sophomores Julia Campbell and Hayden Green time at the net in place of freshman Emily Browning.

“It goes back to the age-old saying I’ve always said: We’re only as good as our backup goalie,” Anderson said. “You cannot go the season without playing your other goalies.”

Eleven different Michigan players scored at least one goal Sunday, and in each game, the Wolverines were uncontested after the first quarter. But Anderson admitted the shooting was still off.

Shooting difficulties aside, Anderson came out of the weekend feeling good about the direction of the team.

“Right now, we’re in the portion of the season where they know we’ve got to focus a little bit more on being able to do more than we’ve done right now,” he said. “I think that’s going to be the case.”