For Michigan water polo fans, this upcoming weekend may be confusing. The Wolverines will travel to Pennsylvania for the second half of the Southern Division Tournament, a competition they also competed in last weekend.
Wondering why Michigan is in a “Southern” athletic division? The Collegiate Water Polo Association is divided into Northern and Southern Divisions. Michigan is part of the Allegheny Region, which, along with the Mid-Atlantic Region, falls under the Southern Division.
The Southern Division Tournament is a chance for the teams from the Allegheny region to face each other before the conference championships take place this April.
Seedings for the championship are based on records from previous regional play, and the winner receives an automatic bid to the Eastern Championship.
Other than the Southern Division Tournament, Michigan usually doesn’t play the teams from the Allegheny region, opting instead for trips to California where the competition is tougher.
Coach Matt Anderson isn’t too concerned with the seemingly complicated route to a division championship. For he and his team, this weekend will be a chance to get back into a rhythm and start preparing for the most important games of the season.
“This weekend will allow us to get our bearings back,” Anderson said.
The team has gone three weeks without competing, except for an exhibition match against Michigan State last Friday.
“We’ve been getting healthy and (working on) conditioning. Now we’ll be able to get our water polo minds back on.”
Anderson expects Gannon to be the toughest opponent this weekend. He described the team as “smaller and very fast” and added that they have been steadily improving over the past few years.
“Gannon is expected to be in the top eight at Easterns,” he said. “That’s the (game) I’m most concerned about. The other games, I don’t expect to have much trouble.”
Michigan has had a history of domination in the Southern Division Tournament since the team’s promotion to varsity status in 2001. The team is 8-0 in the last two competitions, even though last year, it played its intense rival Indiana twice.
This year, however, injuries have taken out many of Michigan’s usual starters. Of the injured players on the team, Anderson said “they haven’t gotten any worse.” Still, the Wolverines already lost standout freshman Megan Hausman earlier this season to a finger injury, and four more players will be sitting out this weekend. Jo Antonsen also has a finger injury, and starters Stephanie Rupp, Abbi Rowe and Julie Nisbet are not healthy enough to play either.
“I would rather give (the injured players) an extra week to recover than risk playing them when they aren’t 100 percent,” Anderson said.
The team has been training hard the past few weeks to prepare for its trip to Pennsylvania. Anderson said the team practiced extremely hard because in the coming weeks it won’t have much time to condition or practice.
“We’re going to have a couple three-day practice weeks – that’s why we’ve been going hard,” he said, also citing an emphasis on physical training because of the stress of upcoming finals.
“We’ve been doing a lot of swimming, and I’ve cut back on the mental aspect,” he said “This allows the ladies to do physical work and not have to worry about learning plays.”
The Wolverines will play three games on Saturday, opening against Slippery Rock and facing Gannon and Washington and Jefferson later that evening. Michigan will play Washington and Jefferson a second time on Sunday to finish up the tournament.