The Michigan women’s water polo team had high hopes of sending off senior captain Leah Robertson and fifth-year senior goalkeeper Brittany May with a deep tournament run.
But the players saw those hopes dashed halfway through their quarterfinal against No. 4 seed California (26-9) on Friday.
After staying with the high-powered Golden Bear offense in the first period, the Wolverines (33-8) fell apart in the second stanza, as they were outscored 4-0.
The usually smothering Michigan defense showed its youthfulness, allowing California to open up a 7-2 lead at the half. Freshman goalie Alex Adamson, who won the job from an injury-plagued May, didn’t look like her regular-season self.
Adamson’s struggles on the big stage forced coach Matt Anderson to platoon the net with all three goalies. Adamson, freshman Morgan Turner and a fatigued May all saw significant playing time throughout the tournament.
Adamson and May combined for 14 saves in an 11-3 victory over No. 8 seed Pomona-Pitzer (18-16), while junior Lauren Orth continued her hot play offensively, putting up a hat trick. She tallied four against California and finished with eight over the three-game tournament. The blowout win placed the Wolverines in the familiar fifth-place game against top-ranked UCLA (22-8).
Once again, the Michigan defense struggled early against the Bruins on Sunday afternoon, allowing six first-period goals. This lack of concentration dug the Wolverines an insurmountable hole, and despite outscoring UCLA over the final three stanzas, Michigan lost 9-6 to end its impressive season with a disappointing sixth-place finish.
“We wanted more,” Anderson said. “But we had two bad quarters — a bad quarter against Cal and a bad quarter against UCLA. And when you’re playing the No. 1 team in the nation and the No. 4 team in the nation, you can’t afford to have a bad quarter. We’re happy with our season, but not happy with how we played this weekend. But to finish sixth is a lot better than to not make it this far.”
Left with the bitter aftertaste of disappointment, the Wolverines were forced to say goodbye to four seniors — May, Robertson, Terri Bukofzer and Casie Kelly.
“It’s very emotional,” Anderson said about the locker room atmosphere. “This has been the best — in terms of performance in the water — the best team the class has ever had, and out of the water, they’ve been at that level as well. It’s been very emotional for (the seniors) and we’re going to miss them.”
With several team leaders graduating, Michigan has difficulties on the horizon. However, Anderson is confident in his young squad’s ability and hopes to improve upon the team’s familiar fifth- and sixth-place finishes.
“We have a chance to be very good next year, but only if we have 100 percent focus when we are playing the top teams in the nation,” Anderson said. “Ten out of 12 periods were good this weekend, but the two that were bad cost us two games. We have to learn to play 12 out of 12.”