After taking home the Southern Division championship last weekend, the Michigan water polo team is in a win-or-go-home situation.

The Wolverines will enter the Eastern Regional Championship as the No. 1 seed and are looking to gain a bid to the NCAA Final Four.

“Our expectations are to be the best team in the East,” Michigan water polo coach Matt Anderson said. “We’re at a point now where we’ve realized that we cannot lose.”

Winning out definitely won’t be easy. After facing Iona and Hartwick in the first two rounds, Michigan will probably match up in the final game of the Regionals against its biggest rival in the East, Indiana. The teams have met three times this year already.

The first meeting between Michigan and Indiana in January resulted in a 12-6 win for the Wolverines. After outscoring the Hoosiers 5-0 in the first quarter, Michigan cruised to victory. But the match in March was a different story. With many key players injured, Michigan had to fight through a close game to secure the exciting 9-7 win. This time it was Indiana that jumped out to an early lead, forcing Michigan to come back and eventually win in overtime.

When the Wolverines faced Indiana with the division championship on the line, Anderson decided to implement some new tactics.

“When you play a team multiple times in a year, you play different styles against them, so at the end of the year you can decide which one works best,” he said.

Last weekend, the Wolverines took a different approach most importantly on defense. Anderson decided to allow Indiana to take as many shots as they wanted – from the outside.

“I allowed Indiana to think they were doing what they wanted to do,” Anderson said. “But they were taking the shots I wanted them to take.”

Much like a zone defense in basketball that protects the inside and allows the other team to attempt 3-point shots, Michigan’s defense let Indiana take the shots it thought Armstrong had the best chance of blocking.

The plan worked – the Hoosiers were held scoreless in the first half. Their only two goals came in the third quarter, and then the Michigan defense clamped down. Goalie Betsey Armstrong notched a season-high 17 saves, and senior Jo Antonsen recorded a hat trick to propel Michigan to a 6-2 victory.

But the defense isn’t the only thing Anderson thinks will help the Wolverines against Indiana.

“The best thing (we have against Indiana) is the confidence we have,” Anderson said. “The confidence factor is the difference.”

Michigan will need all its weapons next weekend when they head to the Eastern Championships. Anderson is confident the Wolverines can get to the final game, where they will likely face Indiana yet again. After that, the matches become extremely competitive.

“If I had to garner a guess, I would say it would be UCLA, Stanford, Loyola-Marymount, and hopefully Michigan in the Final Four,” Anderson said.

But first, the Wolverines have to try for the title of best in the East.

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