Since the beginning of the season, Michigan water polo coach Matt Anderson insisted that his team would be “the best in the east” despite its inexperience.
On Sunday, the Wolverines took a giant step toward proving his point.
No. 12 Michigan took care of its biggest rival, No. 15 Indiana, in a 6-5 win at Canham Natatorium. With the victory, Michigan remained undefeated against Eastern opponents, posting a 17-0 record in the region.
“We’ve been set on re-establishing ourselves in the east, and we weren’t going to let anything break our focus,” junior captain Julie Hyrne said.
That focus was evident from the onset, as the Wolverines came out with an intensity characteristic of any great Michigan rivalry, complete with screaming fans and player-to-player smack talk.
“We’ve had a lot of rivalry outside the pool,” junior Sharayah Hernandez said. “They’ve said unsportsmanlike stuff to us after games that’s just made us even more pumped to want to beat them.”
Despite scorching the opposition for 47 goals in their last 3 matches, the Wolverines knew that Indiana had the potential to slow down their potent offensive attack.
“Defense is what wins games, and it’s clear that that’s what won it for us today,” Anderson said.
The defensive charge was led by junior goalkeeper Brittany May, who made save after save, deflecting every ball that came her way.
“I just kept telling myself, ‘This is our game,’ and that I had to step up,” May said.
Anderson called May “the difference” for Michigan, calling the match “the best performance of her career”.
With the two teams deadlocked at 3-3 heading into the second half, it was May’s third period that gave Michigan the advantage. She held the Hoosiers scoreless, allowing the Wolverines to build a two-goal lead that would be enough to win.
Hyrne and junior Carrie Frost scored the two third-period goals, and May made a diving stop on each ensuing possession to swing the momentum Michigan’s way.
But the game wasn’t over by any means going into the fourth period. The Hoosiers mounted a comeback just as they did last April. In that game, the Wolverines lost despite a three-goal fourth-period lead.
Indiana scored with 1:22 left on the clock to make it a one-goal game, and on the next possession, a Wolverine ejection left Michigan shorthanded with one minute remaining.
The Hoosiers pushed the ball into Wolverine territory, but May tipped their final shot, putting the cap on a Michigan victory.
“I wasn’t going to let that ball get past me,” May said.
The win was vindication for Anderson, who went out on a limb by saying his young team would rise to the top so quickly.
“They chose the Block ‘M’, and that’s a sense of pride that you could see that they were playing for today,” Anderson said.
With a huge rivalry win and momentum on its side, there’s no reason to think Michigan can’t beat “the best of the West” as well.