The largest regular-season crowd in program history packed into Canham Natatorium Saturday afternoon to witness the first-ever televised Michigan water polo match.
The match was everything for the Wolverines, a televised battle against bitter rival No. 15 Indiana. It was an opportunity to clinch their third consecutive CWPA Western regular-season title and also claim the top seed in the upcoming Western Division Championship. All was accomplished in a 6-4 victory over the Hoosiers.
The game also marked the return of injured senior captain Leah Robertson, whose presence was felt immediately. Robertson made an early statement offensively and showed the defensive ability that Michigan has been lacking, tallying a Canham Natatorium-record eight steals. Robertson had no idea of her record-setting performance.
“I really was just focused on having a big rivalry game at home,” Robertson said. “It’s our only Big Ten competition, so getting a win at home is really important.”
Robertson kicked off the scoring with a back-handed rocket that slipped by Indiana sophomore goalie Cassie Wyckoff. Robertson’s goal gave the Wolverines a 1-0 lead after the first stanza. The first possession of the second period marked the Hoosiers’ first shot of the game and first goal.
As the low-scoring battle continued, the physicality escalated. Anger and aggression were evident in the pool as players violently fought for position.
“We play them three or four times a year,” Junior Lauren Orth said. “But every time we play them, no matter how either of us is doing, we’re going to come out for each other’s throats. You never want to lose to your rival, especially at home. So I guess you do what you have to under the water.”
The coaches could be seen and heard condemning players’ actions as well as referees’ calls. Indiana coach Barry King was penalized with a yellow card for continued harassment of the referees.
The yellow card was handed out on a fourth-period penalty. The disputed call gave Michigan an insurmountable three-score lead. Orth and the five-meter penalty shot seemed to be the only aspect of the Michigan offense in sync against the Hoosiers.
“We had the right opportunities on offense,” Anderson said. “They just were not thinking. There were so many times when we ran the right play and something happened and that unfortunately can become a team thing. … There were four or five 6-on-5’s that I thought we ran to perfection but we just didn’t have the ball in the right place. But the benefit is that they stayed focus on defense and that’s what it comes down to.”