The Michigan water polo team competed against the best this weekend – four of the nation’s top 10 teams to be exact – at the Stanford Invitational. After two grueling days the team surpassed all expectations and proved itself worthy of its No. 6 ranking. Finishing with a record of 2-2 and snatching fifth place in the eight-team tournament showed the Wolverines they could compete with more-established Western talent.
“Playing number one, two, three and seven over 48 hrs and coming out 2-2,” Michigan coach Matt Anderson said. “I think we proved we can play a little bit of water polo.”
After a 12-5 blowout loss to undefeated No. 1 Stanford (7-0), Michigan bounced back with a decisive 12-6 win over No. 7 San Jose State (5-4). To start the second day of the tournament, the Wolverines were thrashed 14-6 by No. 2 Southern California (4-1).
But, the battle for fifth place against No. 3 Hawaii provided all the suspense the tournament needed.
The squad’s first close battle came against the Rainbow Wahines in one of Michigan’s more thrilling comebacks. Hawaii coach Michel Roy was ejected for throwing a chair and it took two overtimes and an official review to determine that the Wolverines were victorious.
Michigan’s 1-2 record qualified the Wolverines for a fourth game against the Rainbow Wahines. Early on, the game looked reminiscent of the Wolverines’ two tournament losses. Trailing 5-0 after the first period, the Wolverines never lost hope.
“We know that we’re a good team, and we were out-swimming them,” junior Alison Mantel said. “In the second quarter, we were like, okay, okay we can play with them.”
The Wolverines fought to keep the game within four goals and headed into the fourth period down 9-5. Sophomore backup Morgan Turner replaced redshirt senior Brittany May in net, making 11 saves throughout the final three quarters and overtime to keep them in the game.
“I was really excited to play this game,” Turner said. “I just really wanted to win. I believed in our team, and I thought we could do it from the beginning. I just went on in and winged it.”
Turner’s inspired play coupled with a relentless offense led by freshman Lauren Colton and Mantel were able to outscore the Rainbow Wahines 4-0 in the final stanza.
Trailing by one with five seconds left in the second period of overtime, Mantel netted her fourth goal of the game and sudden death double overtime ensued. Junior Lauren Orth made a brilliant pass inside to senior captain Leah Robertson to give what appeared to be a Michigan victory.
After Robertson’s game-winning goal, the Rainbow Wahine’s assistant coach, Maureen Cole, filed a protest regarding confusion on Hawaii’s timeouts. The scorer’s table reviewed their records to determine the validity of Cole’s claim while the players remained in the pool.
“We were all just sitting there extremely exhausted but ecstatic.” Mantel said. “Then it was finally called that we had won, and we were all ecstatic. My freshman year, we lost to them by one, and the year before that, they lost to them (Hawaii) by one twice. Finally we all played well.”
The Wolverines’ incredible team effort gave them their first ever win against a top-three team, and gave the players confidence that Michigan could be a national contender throughout this season.