The Michigan women’s water polo team spent Super Bowl weekend in Palo Alto, Calif., competing against four ranked teams in the Stanford Invitational. And despite a 3-1 record and stellar performances from senior captain Allison Skaggs and freshman goalkeeper Heidi Ritner, the seventh-ranked Wolverines managed just a third-place finish.

“I thought we got a great performance from Allison Skaggs,” said Michigan coach Marcelo Leonardi. “She ended up scoring four goals against Hawaii in a really critical matchup for third place. Heidi Ritner, she was amazing in the cage throughout the weekend.”

Prior to the matchup with the eighth-ranked Rainbow Warriors, the Wolverines (6-3 overall) opened the Invitational with a win against No. 18 UC Davis (2-8). Michigan got off to a strong start to go up 3-0 to begin the contest, but the Aggies battled back to take the lead. Michigan finished the half on a strong note, though, as junior attacker Caroline Anderson scored to tie the game at seven.

In the second half, the Wolverines flashed their defensive potential by shutting out their opponents in the final 21:25 of the match. Led by senior utility player Danielle Johnson — who recorded a hat trick, three assists and five steals — and the efforts of Ritner, the Wolverines defeated UC Davis, 11-7.

In the second match of the day, Michigan took on No. 4 California (8-1). This time, it was the Wolverines who trailed 3-0 in the game’s early going before freshman utility player Maddie Steere scored Michigan’s first goal. The Golden Bears continued their offensive showcase and took a 7-2 lead into halftime. Despite a valiant second-half effort, including four more goals from Steere, the Wolverines couldn’t claw all the way back, and fell 13-9, to the eventual second-place finishers.

The third game of the tournament took place the following day against No. 16 San Jose State. Both sides battled back and forth from the opening whistle, as Michigan jumped out to a 4-3 lead after the first period. Goals by Johnson and Steere in the second period preserved a 6-5 lead going into halftime.

In the third period, the Wolverines expanded their lead to 9-7 behind two goals from Anderson — a Palo Alto native. The fourth period was highlighted by a crucial save by Ritner followed by a goal by Anderson that solidified a hat trick. The Spartans battled back to come within one, but stout late-game defense by Michigan preserved the lead and the win for the Wolverines as they advanced to the third-place game.

The Wolverines final match against Hawaii (6-4) was another tight contest. As Michigan found itself down 2-1 at the end of the first period, it fought back to take the lead at the half and grew its lead in the third period behind Skaggs’ effort. The Wolverines closed out Hawaii, 8-6, to secure their third-place finish.

Though Michigan’s efforts fell short of reaching the championship game, Leonardi pointed to the importance of the experience gained at the Invitational.

“This is one of the elite tournaments in the country,” Leonardi said. “So what it does is it establishes a platform for us to be able to make a jump not only in the rankings but it also gives us the confidence moving forward to be able to play at the big stage. It had a kind of like a pre-NCAA Tournament feel. And so I think that being able to travel and play four ranked opponents and come out 3-1, I think it’s very impressive for us.”

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