In the spirit of March Madness, the Michigan water polo team turned in a barnburner of a victory last night that would’ve made 1st-round buzzer-beaters San Diego and Western Kentucky proud.
The 6-5 win extended Michigan’s winning streak to 16 matches, the longest in program history.
“It was the greatest game I’ve ever been a part of,” Michigan coach Matt Anderson said.
With less than one minute remaining, the 12th-ranked Wolverines found themselves deadlocked, 5-5, with No. 16 Hartwick College, having trailed for three periods. It was an unfamiliar position for Michigan. The Wolverines hadn’t trailed at halftime since their last loss on Feb. 23 against Southern Cal.
And it was an unfamiliar play that led the team to victory.
With 30 seconds left on the clock and possession of the ball, Anderson called a timeout to rally the team.
“If they give it to us, take it,” he told them.
Lucky for the Wolverines, Hartwick gave it to them.
During the timeout, Anderson drew up a play that his team had never run before, but that didn’t keep them from scoring.
“I was just looking for Michelle (Keeley),” junior Carrie Frost said. “But I realized it wasn’t going to work, so I knew I had to drive the ball and take the shot.”
With 15 seconds remaining, Frost’s shot hit the back of the net to give Michigan the lead and bring the roaring crowd to its feet.
The victory almost slipped through the Wolverines’ hands, as Hartwick took one final shot on the Michigan goal as time ran out. The ball slipped past Brittany May, but the officials called off the goal because of a Hartwick foul near the net.
With that decision, the Wolverines’ thrilling victory was sealed.
“This game was really a wake-up call for us,” junior Julie Hyrne said. “We haven’t fallen behind much lately, so we had to play twice as hard tonight.”
Any win would’ve been hard to come by if it weren’t for May’s continued stellar play. Her recent efforts have established the Wolverines as a defensive power. May saved the day, registering another monster effort with eight saves, two of which were on breakaways, drawing comparisons to her monumental performance in last week’s 6-5 win over rival Indiana.
“She was everything for our defense,” Frost said. “I’m sure she would’ve even played offense if (Anderson) put her in.”
After stealing the ball from the short-handed Wolverines and swimming into an open breakaway, a Hartwick player hurled the ball toward the corner of the Michigan net, only to be rejected by a diving May. Anderson called the save “a game-changer” and “the turning point” for the Wolverines.
Hyrne chipped in two goals and an assist along with Frost’s two goals to lead the Wolverines’ offense. The three points made Hyrne the team’s point leader this season, showing that her play has been another big reason for the Wolverines’ historic streak.
“I don’t know if we were ready for the intensity Hartwick brought on defense,” Anderson said. “But once we got control, we made it our game.”