In four months, the U.S. Olympic water polo team will compete in
the 2004 Summer Olympics in Greece. But last night, the team came
to Ann Arbor for a little appetizer.

The women’s U.S. National team stormed into Ann Arbor last
night and defeated the Wolverines 14-3. The game kicked off the
team’s seven-city college tour in preparation for the 2004
Olympic games.

“I don’t care about the score,” Michigan coach
Matt Anderson said. “I care about what we were able to do
against the 13 best players in the world, and that’s what it
comes down to.”

Team USA, which is currently No. 1 in the world and the odds-on
favorite to win the gold medal in Athens, had a variety of chances
early against the Wolverines. But it failed to capitalize due to
poor shooting out of the gates. Michigan hung tough throughout the
first period, and was able to hold Team USA to a 1-0 lead after the
first seven minutes.

“I knew we were going to be able to match up in the first
period, but eventually they are bigger and faster and stronger, so
they are going to wear you out,” Anderson said.

Team USA exploded after the first period and scored 13 of the
game’s next 16 goals to put a stranglehold on the
Wolverines.

Though the score was lopsided, junior goalkeeper Betsey
Armstrong was a bright spot for Michigan. She made several strong
saves to keep the game from getting completely out of hand.

“Betsey is a great goalie,” said Guy Baker, Team
USA’s coach. “She did a good job … Sometimes we
just got some open looks. It had nothing to do with Betsey or
anything like that, but it was a good test for us just as far as
how well we are shooting.”

Freshman Shana Welch also played well for Michigan, scoring the
team’s first goal — much to the delight of the large
crowd on hand at Canham Natatorium.

Overall, the Wolverines looked at the game as a positive
learning experience heading into their postseason.

“(The game) was incredible,” senior Julie Nisbet
said. “It’s hard to explain. These girls —
they’re the best in the world right now, they won (the World
Championship) — so if you can just learn something every
single possession, every single time you’re guarding someone,
you’re learning and you’re getting better. It was just
an incredible experience.”

Even Michigan’s opponent looked at the game as a learning
experience.

“I think that colleges are going to match up against
different players on our team and try to give us different looks
that we wouldn’t get against ourselves,” attacker
Brenda Villa said. “Because right now, all we are doing is
scrimmaging against ourselves. We know each other pretty well, so
it makes us think, and it makes us become more aware in the
water.”

Despite the fact that it was able to handle the Wolverines with
ease, Team USA had nothing but positive things to say about
Michigan’s program and its growth throughout its four short
years of existence.

“From four years ago when it first started, the level of
play would be average at best, and now they are competing with the
top teams in the country,” Baker said. “Michigan having
a strong team is very important for us nationally. One of (the
National team’s) goals is to help develop the sport
nationally and (make water polo) not just be a California sport or
a (regional) sport. When (Michigan starts) beating some of the top
teams, and some of the top recruits start coming here and
there’s interest in things, then I think we’ll truly be
developing as a sport. They play an important role in the future of
our sport.”

Villa was also extremely impressed with the improvement that she
has seen at Michigan during her years as a water polo player at
Stanford, and now as a member of Team USA.

Nisbet has witnessed the program’s growth firsthand, as
she has been a member of the team since its inception. Last night
marked her final regular-season home game as a Wolverine.

“If we had played this team my freshman year, it would
have been a blowout completely, more so than it (was),”
Nisbet said. “We wouldn’t have even gotten a goal, I
don’t think. This team has come so far in the last three
years, it’s incredible.”

In two weeks, Nisbet’s postseason home career will come to
an end as well, as Michigan will host the Central Water Polo
Association championship. If the Wolverines prevail in that
championship, they will travel to the Eastern Championship. A win
there would give them a bid to the Final Four.

“It’s been a crazy four years and its been a
wonderful four years, but we’ve got a couple of championships
to win before it’s over,” Nisbet said. “So it
doesn’t really feel like the end of anything yet.”

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