After a six-week injury layoff, one might have expected Leah Robertson to be a little rusty in her first game back.
But, in the most important game of the year, against rival Indiana, Robertson returned to the pool and turned in an exceptional performance for the Wolverines. She set the home record for steals in a game with eight and scored a stellar goal to open the scoring in front of the largest Canham Natatorium crowd and the first Big Ten Network broadcast for women’s water polo.
Robertson’s influence on the game was evident from the very beginning. In the first period of the 6-4 Michigan win Robertson settled her nerves and score the period’s only goal. After jockeying for position inside the two-meter line, Robertson received a pass and immediately took a no-look backhand shot, striking the top corner of the net.
On defense, Robertson’s aggressive marking made the Indiana players uncomfortable, ruining the offensive sets the Hoosiers were trying to run. When defending the ball, Robertson pressed hard and caused losses of possession and play stoppages that ruined the flow of the Hoosier offense. Off the ball, Robertson battled to deny players position inside the two-meter line and also read the offense to jump passing lanes and come up with interceptions.
According to Michigan coach Matt Anderson though, Robertson’s return led to an offensive performance that was far from perfect.
“(This was) the first time we’ve had all six players back,” Anderson said. “Everybody now has to play a different role and I think that showed today.”
Anderson felt that the players were running the offensive sets well but couldn’t get the ball to the right position for the culminating shot.
“There were four or five six-on-fives that I thought we ran to perfection,” Anderson said. “We just didn’t have the ball in the right place.”
Though Michigan’s offense was clearly off its game, Robertson’s leadership helped offensive players to adjust to their new roles. During the game, Robertson showed her value as a captain as she was not shy to speak up and direct offensive sets. When offensive possessions stalled and the shot clock hit 10 seconds, Robertson didn’t hesitate to position herself at the top of the formation and tell her teammates where to position themselves to open up passing lanes.
Although the offense didn’t run very smoothly, it is clear that everyone knows the offense will click with Robertson returning to the team. Junior Lauren Orth, who scored two crucial five-meter penalties, refers to Robertson as an offensive weapon the team will have to get used to.
“Once we have a few weeks to get them comfortable, I think it will benefit us,” Anderson said.