Last year, the Michigan women’s water polo team missed the
Eastern Championship Final Four by an inch.

Janna Hutz
Junior Betsy Armstrong is the backbone of a solid Michigan defense. (RYAN WEINER/Daily)

After a last-minute shot hit the post, the Wolverines fell to
the Brown Bearcats 5-4 in the semifinals and failed to make a
repeat appearance in the Final Four. While Michigan went on to
finish third, coach Matt Anderson said the team was “happy,
but definitely not satisfied.”

Now that the 2004 season is here, Michigan — ranked 10th
in the preseason poll — looks to make good on all its goals.
Michigan gladly welcomes back 16 letterwinners from the 2003 squad
that won a second consecutive Southern Division title. Heading the
team will be three first-time captains: Goalkeeper Betsey
Armstrong, driver Rachel Burkons and center Stephanie Rupp.
Armstrong is coming off a phenomenal year. The lights-out
goalkeeper earned her second American Water Polo Coaches
Association All-America Honorable Mention distinction in two
years.

With Armstrong in net, the Wolverines developed into one of the
fiercest defensive teams in the league last year. The team set a
pair of school records, allowing just 5.09 goals per game and
posting an average of 11.41 blocks per game. In 2003, senior
captains Stephanie Morris, Emily Pelino and Delia Sonda played
major roles in Michigan’s success, and their absence creates
a large void for the Wolverines.

“They’ll definitely be missed, and we’ll have
to learn how to play without them,” Anderson said. “But
I have confidence other players will step up, and we’ll be
fine.”

Two players the team will count on this season are freshmen
Shana Welch from Larksville, Pa., and Wesley Ellison, a native of
Portola Valley, Calif. Both newcomers should see significant
playing time. Anderson also has high hopes for sophomore Megan
Hausmann, who missed a large part of last year due to injuries.

“When Megan is healthy, she can be the type of player that
dominates on both ends— offensively and defensively,”
Anderson said.

This year, the Eastern Conference has expanded from two to four
divisions. This means the Wolverines will move from the Southern
Division to the Western Division. Most of Michigan’s rivals
have made the move, including foes Indiana, Penn State-Behrend and
Mercyhurst.

The 2004 season kicks off this weekend with the third annual
Michigan Invitational at Canham Natatorium. With six games on the
schedule for this weekend, the Invitational should be special for
senior Rachel Burkons. Coming into the competition, Burkons, who
was with Michigan as a freshman in its inaugural year, has played
in 96 games and is set to become the first Michigan player to
appear in 100 games. Julie Nisbet is just behind Burkons with 93
games under her belt for the Wolverines.

“Four of the top 17 teams in the nation are here this
weekend,” Anderson said. “It could be a great weekend
for us or it could be a weekend of heartbreakers. But it should
definitely be fun.”

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