When the No. 12 Michigan women”s water polo team hopped on its five-hour flight to California, it expected a breakout week a chance to earn the respect of the water polo world.
Instead, the Wolverines ran into some unexpected turbulence during their trip, leaving California with just one overtime victory over fellow No. 12 California-San Diego.
“Right now, it”s mostly experience level,” Michigan coach Amber Drury-Pinto said about her team”s struggles on the west coast. “Most of the girls in the California schools have played a lot more games. We”re getting that experience, and we don”t get that level of competition on a weekly basis. They can go 20 miles to get that competition, but we need a five-hour plane ride.”
The Wolverines (10-9-1) are just 1-9 against teams from the Western Conference. Against No. 1 Stanford and No. 3 Southern California, the Wolverines have lost three games by a combined score of 45-8.
Even after being dominated by these teams, captain Melissa Karjala is confident that the Wolverines will be competitive eventually.
“We can beat a lot of them,” Karjala said. “Girls from Stanford, UCLA, and USC have been around the program a lot longer. They”re very well established, and they”re a lot more physical. They”ve just been doing what they do a lot longer than we have.”
But it wasn”t just lack of experience that kept Michigan from beating the California schools.
The Wolverines didn”t execute their plays, and didn”t anticipate like the upper echelon teams during their west coast trip.
“They”re a lot more aggressive,” Karjala said. “They just know where to be, and how to mess with you so that you can”t do something. They just seem bigger and stronger.”
Michigan knows that these struggles are all a part of being a first-year program, and that it must learn everything it can from the great teams.
Coach Drury-Pinto “told us if they do something and they totally school you at this end of the pool, go and try it at the other end on them or against the next team we play,” Karjala said.
Michigan has a two-week break before it resumes action when hosting the Southern Division Tournament. Drury-Pinto plans on using this time off to push the team in its training and do some film review to make sure the players remember their mistakes.
Sophomore Stephanie Morse is ready to prepare for their next meeting with the Western Conference teams.
“Going out there and getting beat in those games is motivation to come back here and work hard so that the next time we play them we can play a better game,” Morse said.