The Michigan men’s water polo team often fades behind the hype and marketing of the University’s major sports. Yet this group of poised individuals has tales of camaraderie, commitment and accomplishment that equal those that are constantly in the spotlight.
In late August of 2003, a group of players assembled, immediately forming a balanced, focused and cohesive unit. All but the incoming freshman experienced a bitter end to their previous season. The Wolverines were denied a spot in the National Championship by Michigan State, losing by one goal in the qualifying round. But the team had every reason to be confident about its chances of taking home a national title. With their final season approaching, senior star goalie Jeff Bronson and coach Vaughn Cooper wanted to leave it all in the pool, harboring no regrets. The rest of the team shared this vision, practicing hard and playing each game as if it were its last.
After finishing the regular season with a strong 18-4 record, the polo players ferociously awaited a possible rematch with the Spartans in the qualifying tournament, the Big Ten Championship. This tournament included nine of the eleven Big Ten schools, each team jockeying for the single open spot in the National Championship tournament in Texas. As fate would have it, Michigan State was the only team that stood in Michigan’s way of a trip to Texas.
But this time, the Wolverines reigned supreme.
Michigan arrived at Nationals with a high level of confidence.
“We knew we were going to take it the second we got there,” senior Patrick Emaus said.
Michigan defeated Dartmouth, Georgia Tech and Yale in the first three rounds, blowing each of them out of the water. When the finals came rolling around, the polo players went on a tear, sinking California Polytechnic University and claiming the National Championship as their own.
In 2004, the Wolverines — with extra efforts from new coach Alex Zimmer and core seniors and captains Brad Gregorka, Rob Palmerlee and Ryan Wyatt — had another outstanding season, finishing third in the nation at Notre Dame.
Despite the loss of many star players due to graduation, Michigan believes that its tradition of excellence and sportsmanship will prevail. Prot