Coming into the Michigan Kickoff this weekend, one third of the Michigan women’s water polo team had never faced any collegiate competition. So this weekend’s four matches, three of them against top-ranked opponents, offered the chance to answer questions about their ability to succeed with a team largely made up of freshmen.

Consider those questions answered in the form of 17 goals.

The 18th-ranked Wolverines kicked off the 2008 season with a 2-2 split at Canham Natatorium, calming many doubts with their solid play.

Although a .500 record seems disappointing, Michigan coach Matt Anderson called the weekend’s performance “exceptional,” saying the team played “well enough to win.”

Both of Michigan’s losses came to teams ranked in the top 15 – No. 11 Arizona State and perennial powerhouse, No. 7 San Jose State.

But the Wolverines held their own, losing by a total of three goals for both games, trading the lead back and forth throughout.

In the weekend’s final match, coming off an impressive win over UC-San Diego, the Wolverines put up a strong fight against San Jose State, erasing a three-goal halftime deficit.

With the game tied at eight with one minute remaining, the crowd looked on as the Spartans got past the Michigan defense and scored a nearly undefended goal, leaving the Wolverines with a nasty taste in their mouths.

Putting the losses aside, the weekend was more of a statement for the Wolverines as the new season also means new leadership and 10 incoming freshmen.

These first-year players made the difference at the Michigan Kickoff.

In the Wolverines’ first match of the season against Colorado State, the freshmen accounted for seven of Michigan’s goals in the 16-5 rout. Those seven goals were the most by any freshmen class in one game in program history.

Freshmen Keller Felt and Alison Mantel lit up the stat sheet with impressive first-day hat tricks.

Mantel earned another hat trick on the second day. The only difference?

Mantel’s second hat trick was in one period. It’s no wonder Mantel’s nickname is “Magic.”

“With the freshmen we have, we’re capable of a lot,” said senior Michelle Keeley.

Keeley had a milestone of her own this weekend, scoring her 50th career goal in the 6-5 win over UC-San Diego.

“These freshmen just love to score,” Anderson said, “They don’t know how to do anything else.”

With a talented group of freshmen improving with every game, it looks like it could be a “magical” season for the Michigan women’s water polo team.

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