A couple of missed penalty shots and a few crucial mistakes characterized the Michigan women’s water polo team’s last loss of the 2012 season to Maryland at the Eastern Championships. The Wolverines settled for a third-place finish there, narrowly missing out on an NCAA Tournament berth.

But this time around, things will be different. Well, that’s easy to say, right?

I’m not the only one saying it. Michigan coach Matt Anderson is confident in this year’s group, focusing in on the season goal, among others, to be a part of the final eight teams left in this year’s NCAA Tournament.

“We always want to do better than we did before,” Anderson said. “Each team wants to set a new standard and a new legacy. To me, I want to be playing in the final eight in Harvard.”

Anderson persistently stresses consistency and, along with that, continuous improvements each day throughout the season. By improving as players, he hopes to prepare his team for non-athletic endeavors as well.

“Outside of the water, we want to be good characters and strong academically,” Anderson said.

So, let’s get the popular question out of the way now: Why is this team any different than last year’s? Why should Michigan fans expect an improvement?

The answers lie in good recruiting, impact freshmen and senior attacker Kiki Golden, who led the team in goals scored last season.

This past summer, Anderson made some really loud noise on the recruiting trail. He landed eight recruits and at least three — Bryce Beckwith, Presley Pender and Alexandra Thomoson — are expected to play a big role in the Wolverines’ hopes to make a tournament run.

Beckwith will back up senior second meter Lauren Colton, Michigan’s second-leading scorer last season. Beckwith will be in good hands with Colton as a senior mentor to a budding star.

Pender has been on the USA Junior Olympic water polo team from 2001-10 and received All-Academic honors in her final two seasons at the high school level. Anderson calls Pender a “water polo point guard,” and she should be a key factor for increased offensive production.

Thomoson will be used mostly as a utility player, but Anderson expects solid results from the freshman that has USA Youth National Team experience in 2010 and 2011. She led her prep school to three league titles, en route to All-First team honors in 2009-10.

Finally, Golden, coming off of a 71-goal season, has gotten even better according to Anderson. This might be the scariest thing about being on the other side of the pool against Michigan this season. After being named the Collegiate Water Polo Association’s Eastern Player of the Year, how much better could she really be?

“As well as you can ask a three time All-American to be,” Anderson said. “She is even better now than (how) she ended last year. Knowing teams will key in on her a little more, she knew she needed to better herself.”

So that’s that. Anyone can tell you this team is going to make to the NCAA Tournament this time around, but the facts are there to fill in any doubt left.

Consistently good recruiting, three freshmen that will see significant time in the water and Golden’s improvement are reasons why such high aspirations are set at Canham Natatorium right now.

In that very building, the Wolverines will host the Michigan Kick-Off Tournament this weekend where the road to the NCAA Tournament gets under way.

This team is different. Just wait and see.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.