Experience is the best teacher around.
The No. 9 Michigan women”s water polo team (4-3-1), in its first varsity home invitational, felt the growing pains that are expected from a first-year program.
Two losses to No. 1 Stanford and a tie against Big Ten rival No. 15 Indiana could have hurt the morale of the team. Instead, the Wolverines are using the results of the Michigan Invitational to their advantage.
“Whoever works hard during the year is going to come out on top, so that”s good for us,” senior captain Christy Lilley said. “Against Stanford, we just wanted to play them and learn everything we could.”
Before facing ranked-foes Stanford and Indiana, Michigan trounced Michigan State 11-3 and Miami (Ohio) 18-4, both of which are club teams.
In two matches against the Cardinal, Michigan was outscored 28-6 (17-3 and 11-3), leaving the Wolverines in awe of their top-ranked opponent.
“They”re where we want to be,” freshman two-meter Julie Nisbet said. “We got smoked. You can look at it from that angle, or we can look at (Stanford) and say that”s where we want to be. That”s our goal to be as good as them. They were amazing.”
What struck Michigan the most was Stanford”s ability to pass the ball without looking at its target.
“When they throw it up, their teammate is going to be there,” Michigan coach Amber Drury-Pinto said. “With us, we still have to wait until (the person) is there.”
In the most anticipated and highly attended game of the weekend, Michigan forced a 4-4 tie with Indiana, the only other Big Ten varsity program.
The Wolverines were down by one in the fourth quarter but never gave up, giving Nisbet who led the team in scoring with six goals on the weekend the opportunity to tie the game.
“We kept fighting in the last quarter,” Nisbet said. “It says a lot about our character that when we”re down, and they have all the momentum going into the fourth quarter, we still pull off the tie.”
Michigan still has some unfinished business with the Hoosiers. Lilley, who scored four goals on the weekend, feels the Wolverines will be the better team next time around.
The program “can only go up from here, and we think we work harder than (Indiana does),” Lilley said.
Freshman driver Kristen Bloomstrom thinks the tie will bring out the Wolverines” best performance the next time the teams square off.
“We”re just going to have to focus a lot more in practice, and learn how to play better as a team, although we”ve definitely gotten through the first step,” Bloomstrom said. “We really meshed together as a team.”
Drury-Pinto is happy with the team”s performance thus far, and feels like the team has improved with every game.
“I”ve come in and asked them to do a lot of things that they aren”t used to,” Drury-Pinto said. “It”s always critical that they actually see it in the water, rather than me just telling them.”