After a quick start to their season, last weekend’s performance may have been the first time this season there was discontent in the Wolverine locker room.
The No. 5 Wolverines (12-6) had impressed with their performances over their first three invitationals, but left the Anteater Aquatics Complex with the taste of chlorine and disappointment in their mouths. After facing four top-13 teams over the two-day event, Michigan finished 1-3 and in eighth place for the University of California-Irvine Invitational.
Of the three losses, two were upsets, by No. 8 Arizona State (6-4) and No. 10 San Jose State (9-7). Coming into the invitational, the Wolverines were a perfect 9-0 against teams ranked below them.
On Friday, the day before the invitational began, Michigan crushed unranked opponents Sienna and Cal Lutheran 15-3 and 11-4, respectively, thanks to a strong defensive performance from junior Ryley Plunkett. These games were meant to prepare the Wolverines for the invitational, but instead acted as a hindrance, as the team was exhausted from playing in six games in under 72 hours.
“We just scheduled games to warm up for the tournament,” coach Matt Anderson said. “From Friday, they were sunburned, it’s a totally different atmosphere when you’re in the sun, wind and even the rain. (Sunday) we just ran out of gas.”
“It felt pretty terrible,” Plunkett said. “We are not used to doing that. As a team we’re just going to have to pull it back together and overcome this.”
Saturday looked optimistic as the Wolverines, who were once again led by senior captain Leah Robertson, as they squeaked by No. 13 San Diego State, 6-4. Michigan, which is 2-0 against the Aztecs (8-4) on the season, looked strong defensively, despite still being without redshirt senior goalkeeper Brittany May.
“She’s not 100% yet and I don’t want to push her too hard,” coach Anderson said. “It’s a day-by-day thing, a shoulder injury. You can’t rush.”
May did play sparingly throughout the weekend, starting the game against Siena and getting some playing time versus both UCLA and Arizona State.
Hot off their 12th win of the season, the Wolverines looked to upset No. 3 UCLA (11-3) which they have never beaten. But the Wolverine defense, led by sophomore-back-up goalie Morgan Turner, struggled against the high-powered Bruin offense.
The Wolverines dug themselves into a 7-2 hole headed into the final period. Despite a valiant effort by May, who came in the final stanza for Turner, and freshman Kiki Golden, Michigan was unable to overcome the deficit, losing to the five-time defending champion Bruins, 7-5.
After a solid first day of competition, the second day showed the first sign of weakness from the Wolverines, and they were upset by both Arizona State and San Jose State. The exhausted Michigan defense conceded 21 goals on the second day of play, as the Spartans avenged their early-season loss to Michigan
But despite the .500 record on the weekend, the Wolverines can still take away some positives, including the fact that this was their second close match against the perennial powerhouse Bruins, whom the players are eager to meet again.
“Being able to play with them is a great confident boost,” Plunkett said. “We’re hoping we see them again this season.”