The shot clock was counting down from 15 seconds during sudden death overtime in Friday night’s women’s water polo contest between Michigan and Indiana.
Indiana junior Janis Pardy had the ball in the middle of the pool, looking to pass to one of her teammates. As the clock flashed seven, the Michigan player defending Pardy dropped back to protect the four-meter line, and Pardy lofted the ball into the air. Rotating ever so slightly, it soared over the water, over the outstretched arms of Michigan’s senior goalie Betsey Armstrong and quietly smacked the back of the net. The crowd at Canham Natatorium sat silent and stunned while the Indiana players celebrated. With that miraculous goal, No. 11 Michigan (6-1 CWPA, 17-10 overall) lost 7-6 to No. 9 Indiana (7-0, 17-8).
“Sudden death is the same as a coin toss at the beginning of the game,” Michigan coach Matt Anderson said. “You call heads or tails and hope it lands the way that you called it.”
In a matchup between two of the top teams in the CWPA, Michigan came out sluggish and didn’t show signs of competing until the last minute of the first half.
Trailing 2-0, the Wolverines found a spark. Junior Carly Strub scored with 43 seconds remaining, and sophomore Shana Welch notched a goal on a breakaway with 23 seconds left. Heading into halftime, the Wolverines and Hoosiers were deadlocked at 2-2.
Michigan continued to improve offensively in the third period as junior Megan Hausmann and senior Sheetal Narsai each scored to give the Wolverines a 5-4 lead.
In the fourth period, Indiana junior Emily Schmitt struck back with a goal with 4:20 remaining to tie the game at five. Armstrong made a spectacular save on a breakaway shot with 24 seconds left, sending it into overtime.
Welch scored first, but Indiana answered to tie it at six apiece, in the second overtime, sending it to sudden death.
While the second loss to Indiana this season was hard for the Wolverines to take, Armstrong said that the toughness the team showed was a positive.
“We’re proud with the way that we played,” Armstrong said. “We can use it for a catalyst for the rest of the season. In our home pool, we had the opportunity to get the fire back and get ready for the next couple of tournaments.”
Rebounding from the tough loss to rival Indiana, Michigan hosted the Wolverine Invite on Saturday. After easily defeating Brown and Wheaton 8-3 and 14-1, respectively, the Wolverines faced off against No. 7 Loyola Marymount.
In the Wolverines’ second tight game of the weekend, Michigan held a 5-4 lead going into the fourth period. The Lions tallied four goals, countering the Wolverines’ two goals in the final period. Michigan had a chance to tie when Welch stole the ball with 23 seconds left, but senior Jo Antonsen’s pass was stolen by Loyola Marymount’s sophomore Katie Hicks, clinching the Lions’ 8-7 victory.
After two heartbreaking losses, the Wolverines needed an emotionally charged senior-day game against California Lutheran to raise their spirits. Before the game, the seven seniors were honored, and, as a testament to their tight-knit bond, all of them except for Armstrong scored at least one goal. The Wolverines defeated California Lutheran 12-2 and ended the Wolverine Invite on a high note.
“We’ve been looking forward to this and dreading this day for a while,” Antonsen said. “There were a lot of different emotions. We’re all excited to move onto the next chapter but sad because we’ll be leaving each other and the program. It’s going to be tough to say goodbye.”
After a shaky start against Indiana, Anderson felt that his team’s improvement as the weekend progressed was extremely important heading into the final few weeks of the regular season.
“You want to know that you played better at the end of the weekend than you did at the beginning, and we definitely did,” Anderson said. “We’re following the steps that we have planned — to be able to operate at the best level come playoff time.”
Overall, Anderson was pleased with a 3-2 record and his team’s ability to compete with two top-tier teams in the nation over the weekend.
“We were two bounces away from defeating two very good top-10 teams,” Anderson said. “The key is, at the end of the season, in our final two games against that type of competition, that the bounces go our way.”