The horn indicating the end of the second overtime quarter had sounded, and Michigan water polo coach Matt Anderson kicked his water bottle into the pool, skipping, and threw his hands up in the air. This colorful display of emotion wasn’t out of anger, though, it was his way of celebrating his team’s eleventh win against arch-rival Indiana, bringing the team’s record against the Hoosiers to 11-0-1.
“It’s where you wish you could be in the pool to get rid of some of the energy,” said Anderson of his victory dance. “And I don’t like doing that, but I gotta thank God my heart held out, and at that point I needed to release some energy.”
Anderson had many reasons to rejoice over his Wolverines’ 9-7 win over the Hoosiers – their closest game ever with the rival. Coming into the game, the team knew it would have to regroup and learn how to play without starters Megan Hausmann and Jo Antonsen, as well as driver Abbi Rowe. All were lost to injury during the team’s last two road trips to California.
“We’re a team that doesn’t depend on any one particular person every single game,” junior Julie Nisbet said. “Different people have different strengths – different people step up. I don’t think we ever get worried when we lose players.”
Despite Nisbet’s claim that the team can deal with the loss of key players, the Wolverines didn’t seem to come together until after the first two quarters of Saturday’s game. At halftime, Michigan was down 5-1, and the large crowd that had filled Canham Natatorium was all holding its breath, wondering if Anderson’s pep talk could spur the girls on to outplay their rivals in the second half.
“I told the girls at half time, ‘Hey, so it’s 5-1 – doesn’t matter – we control the tempo of this game, and we can reel them back in,'” Anderson said.
Anderson’s enthusiasm shined in the players, as Michigan started off the third quarter with two goals, one from sophomore Casey Kerney and the other from senior Delia Sonda. Indiana was able to slip only one goal past sophomore goalie Betsey Armstrong. The quarter ended with sophomore Sheetal Narsai’s first of four goals in the game, making the score 6-4.
The goal tallies by the Wolverines eased the worries goalkeeper Armstrong had coming into the second half.
“We came out a lot stronger on defense so that made me a lot more confident,” said Armstrong, who was recently named CWPA Southern Division Player of the Week.
But it was in the final quarter that the Wolverines took full control. Kerney made her second goal of the game from nearly halfway across the pool – eight meters from the net.
The score was 6-5, and in the final minutes of the quarter, the Wolverines’ hope was to tie up the game so that they would at least get a second chance to flounce the Hoosiers in overtime. However, their hopes were crushed – at least temporarily – when Indiana made another goal with 3:51 left on the clock to make the score 7-5.
Narsai countered with another goal to again bring the Wolverines within one. With 38 seconds to go, the spotlight was again on Narsai when she was given a four-meter penalty shot.
“I was praying,” said Narsai about the seconds before she took her shot. “Every time I pray, it usually goes in. I was trying not to focus on anything else besides that ball. I was looking at the back of the (goalie’s) cage and picturing the ball going in.”
And that ball did go in, answering the prayers of both Narsai and the team. Michigan would get their second chance in overtime after all. In water polo, the teams play two more three-minute quarters to decide the winner. If the score is still tied after those overtime quarters, it moves to a sudden-death round.
After the first overtime quarter and nearing the end of the second quarter, neither team had scored. But with a minute remaining, Nisbet got her shot past the Indiana goalie, not only putting the Wolverines ahead of the Hoosiers for the first time in the game, but completing her 100th career goal as a Wolverine.
“Scoring goals like that is really the reason I play water polo,” Nisbet said. “Especially when it’s your rival team, in your home pool, with a crowd like that.”
And in the final seconds of overtime, Narsai tossed one more goal in, making the final score 9-7.
“It was kind of like icing on the cake,” said Narsai about her fourth goal of the game.
Anderson believes the outcome of the game didn’t happen because of a few team members, but said instead that the victory came out of a team effort from all the players.
“The players in the water were telling me, ‘I don’t know if I can to this, maybe you should get someone else in.’ So now they’re thinking more like a coach, rather than just saying, ‘I’m gonna do it all myself’ – if you can count on your teammates, you can be a better team,” Anderson said.
This win and Michigan’s wins this weekend against Grove City, 18-2, Penn State-Behrend, 11-4, and Washington & Jefferson, 14-4, marked the end of the first rounds of the Southern Division tournament, the beginning of the team’s road to the NCAA Final Four.
According to Anderson, his favorite part about the weekend was the crowd at the Hoosier thrashing.
“I was very pleased with the crowd,” Anderson said. “All I can say is, it’d be nice to get the band out here someday.”