This weekend, the Michigan women’s water polo team settled, at least temporarily, the biggest rivalry in the East. The Wolverines dominated Indiana with a 12-6 win, moving to 9-0-1 against the Hoosiers all-time.
“It’s great when there isn’t a hatred, but a healthy (rivalry),” Michigan coach Matt Anderson said. “(Michigan and Indiana) is the most intense rivalry outside of California.”
The team opened its season this weekend as hosts of the Michigan Invitational. The Wolverines faced San Jose State, Indiana, Eastern Michigan, Hartwick College (N. Y.) and Michigan State in the tournament, finishing with a 4-1 record.
Anderson’s goal for the invitational was to establish the team as a force in the East. The team accomplished this, but learned that it has a ways to go before it is ready to take on the best of the West.
Saturday, No. 11 Michigan matched up with the less familiar Spartans from San Jose State to start off the invitational. The Wolverines were outplayed 8-3 by their seventh-ranked opponents.
Despite the loss, Anderson felt the team showed a lot of skill and determination.
“For three of the quarters we played very well – unfortunately we had first quarter jitters, and you can’t do that to one of the nation’s best teams,” Anderson said. “You give them a lead and the game’s over.”
Anderson was assistant coach at San Jose State from 1999 to 2001 and knew how tough the game would be.
“San Jose State was brought out here for a reason,” Anderson said. “I had to show the (team) where we are right now and where we need to get.”
Next was the contest against No. 14 Indiana. As a sizable crowd of Michigan fans cheered on the team, the Wolverines won 12-6, which was the largest margin the team has ever won by against Indiana.
The difference between this game and the San Jose State game was that they started off the game confidently, making five shots while the Hoosiers scored none.
Anderson also just came off a season as Indiana’s assistant coach, so he was familiar enough with the players to know how to approach the game.
“I did have an advantage, but the difference was that we put together four quarters of great water polo,” Anderson said. “When two good teams are playing and one team is really hot, that doesn’t mean the other team isn’t good.”
Anderson knows that Indiana won’t always be so easy to beat.
Michigan’s last tough game came Sunday against New York’s No. 16 Hartwick College. Winning 11-6, the Wolverines had come a long way since their loss to San Jose State.
Sophomore Sheetal Narsai was the highest scoring Wolverine in this game, tallying four goals.
“Right now we’re just proving that we are the strongest team in the East and that (in the future), we could dominate and bang with the big boys in the West,” Narsai said.
The games against Eastern Michigan and Michigan State were only exhibition games, since neither school has a varsity squad. Michigan waxed Eastern Michigan 12-4, and topped Michigan State 11-6.
After their strong showing in the Michigan Invitational, the Wolverines hope to improve as the season goes on.
“We have a whole season to go, and still haven’t reached our pinnacle,” Narsai said.