No. 13 Michigan (14-9-1) honored its three seniors, Melissa Karjala, Christy Lilley and Torye Santucci, before their last game in Canham Natatorium Sunday.
Appropriately, the seniors will leave Canham the way that they deserve as winners. Michigan swept the Southern Division Tournament this weekend, finishing 4-0, including two hard-fought victories over arch-rival No. 17 Indiana, 6-5 and 10-9.
It was an emotional moment for the Wolverines, as the seniors received their flowers and embraced their parents to close out the first year of the varsity Michigan women”s water polo.
“A lot of players got teary-eyed when we were doing the (flower) presentations, and that”s how much (the seniors) mean to this team,” Michigan coach Amber Drury-Pinto said. “And it wasn”t just the returning players, it was the freshmen too. (The seniors) are the lifeblood of this team.”
The 2001 senior class, while being a vital part of the team”s success in the water, will be remembered the most for their hard work and patience in bringing former club players and recruited scholarship players together.
“They”ve been everything to this program,” Drury-Pinto said. “Coming into the fall, we had a large group of freshmen and a returning group, and nobody was really sure they didn”t really know me that well. Our seniors really stepped up for us. They provided the leadership we needed, and it has continued throughout the whole season.”
With less than two months left in the season, all the younger Wolverines can do is just try and get the most out of the time they have left with the departing seniors.
“It”s going to be so sad not to see them around for a long time,” sophomore Stephanie Morse said. “I”ve really gotten to love the seniors, but we”ve still got a couple of months left with them, and we”ll hold onto that.”
Both games against Indiana were tied at the end of regulation, just like the first game one month ago in which they tied 4-4.
But this time, there was an overtime period, and Michigan took full advantage, winning the first game in overtime, and stealing Sunday”s game in sudden death.
“In sudden death it can go either way,” said senior captain Melissa Karjala, who led the team in scoring for the weekend. “No one gave up, and everyone stayed on top (of their game).”
Michigan”s clutch victories over Indiana were important for many different reasons. The Wolverines” sweep of the Hoosiers gives them an open road to the No. 1 seed in the Southern Division Championships two weeks from now. Also, Michigan stayed undefeated against its Eastern Conference opponents.
Drury-Pinto, although satisfied with the team”s performance, wants to make sure the Wolverines stay focused.
“They are big wins, but it”s like I”ve told my girls, those are the games that we need to expect to win,” Drury-Pinto said. “It”s a big win, yes, but it”s nothing to cheer about. We made our jobs a lot more difficult than they had to be.”
The family atmosphere translated into wins. The parents, players, coaches and everyone around the program have combined to make this inaugural year a success. For proof, just look at how Drury-Pinto measures her team”s improvement.
“The thing that I use as a measure a lot of times is the parents,” Drury-Pinto said. “They”re coming in and they”re like “Oh my god, (the team) looks so fit, they”re so much more smooth in the water, their passes are really zinging around.” I like hearing that.”