Imagine treading water for 28 minutes.

Now imagine treading water for 28 minutes while trying to fight
off brutal kicking, grabbing and scratching from an opponent who
would like nothing better than to rip the ball out of your hands.
Water polo has been called one of the most physically demanding
sports in existence — and for good reason. Only in this sport
is there an entire physical component of the game that takes place
under water and out of sight of the spectators in the stands. And
this is where the real battles take place. Each player on a water
polo team has a distinct role to fill, and when everyone is doing
their job properly, the team can resemble a well-oiled machine,
gliding effortlessly through the water.

In its four short years of existence, the Michigan water polo
team has achieved unparalleled success, compiling a record of
92-41-1 that includes a 32-0 conference record and four Central
Water Polo Association conference titles. What is the recipe for
success? Sprinkle in seven hard-working role-players, throw in a
dynamic coach and a dash of healthy superstition, and … Voila!
The result is the most dominant water polo team east of the
Mississippi.

 

Left-handed Driver

Name: Jo Antonsen

Year: Junior

Hometown: Agoura Hills, Calif.

Position Breakdown: As a left-handed water polo player
— which is extremely rare — Antonsen has a distinct
advantage over her opponents. “Lefties are more set for
another side of the pool,” Antonsen said. “We
definitely have a better edge than right-handed people. I have a
better field of vision being left-handed.” Antonsen says that
a lot of players have trouble guarding lefties, and will typically
guard the wrong shoulder, which frees her up for dangerous spin
moves. Left-handed players can also attack the cage from a better
angle, which most goalies are not used to seeing. Coach Matt
Anderson agrees that southpaw water polo players are ahead of the
game. “I really am a fan of left-handers,” Anderson
said. “Water polo is made for right-handers, so if
you’re left-handed, you can really dominate — it poses
a lot of difficult problems for the other team. Everything
you’ve learned growing up, you have to do opposite (to guard
a left-hander).”

Water Whisper: Antonsen is often the butt of the
team’s jokes because of her unique status as one of only
three lefties on the entire team. “We always call her
southpaw, ” teammate Megan Hausmann jokes. “Anything
she does wrong, we say, ‘It’s OK, it’s just
because you’re a lefty’ and ‘It’s OK if you
want to be a righty.’ We just like to pick on her for
that.”

 

Goalie

Name: Betsey Armstrong

Year: Junior

Hometown: Ann Arbor

Position Breakdown: As the goalkeeper, Armstrong’s
obvious job is to keep the ball from getting into the net. However,
she also must serve as the team’s eagle eye, as how she can
get a look at the entire pool from her position in the net.
“My key goal (in the pool) is that I am always aware of what
is going on on defense,” Armstrong said. “I can see all
of the different positions and can see where the defenders are
getting open shots, so I tell my teammates where to go.”
Armstrong’s career as goalkeeper has been outstanding to say
the least: In addition to being a two-time All-American, she is
Michigan’s career leader in every goalkeeping stat, and has a
chance to post her 1,000th career block this season.

Water Whisper: “I always like to do lunges in front
of the cage every time I am in a new pool to make sure I know the
positioning and everything,” Armstrong said. In keeping with
the unique nature of the sport, the goal is known as “the
cage” in water polo.

 

2-Meter Defensive Guard

Name: Megan Hausmann

Year: Sophomore

Hometown: San Diego, Calif.

Position Breakdown: As the Wolverines’ 2-meter
guard, Hausmann is positioned directly in front of her own net in a
defensive location known as the “hole set,” similar to
the post or block in basketball. In water polo, every defense is
set up to try to keep the opponent from getting the ball into the
hole set, and it is Hausmann’s job to defend her territory at
any cost. “A lot happens underwater, especially at the hole
set,” Hausmann said. “It’s just like a wrestling
match — they’re holding your suit, and you’re
holding theirs. You’re holding them up with your legs and
they are pushing down on you. There’s a lot of scratching,
grabbing and elbowing.”

Water Whisper: In addition to employing these devious
tactics, Hausmann and her teammates rely on a ritual-like
superstition during practice. “I know that a lot of us, with
our warm-ups, are superstitious,” Hausmann said. “If we
play well after a certain (drill), we want to do that same thing
exactly. (We want to) pass with the same person that we passed with
before just to keep that rhythm going.”

 

Driver: Counter-Attack

Name: Shana Welch

Year: Freshman

Hometown: Larksville, Penn.

Position Breakdown: Michigan’s standout freshman
phenom leads the team with 37 goals and 37 assists, and is the
team’s main counter-attack option. “A lot of (my job as
driver) is to create a lot of movement and make
opportunities,” Welch said. “It’s kind of hard to
compare (my position to another sport) because it’s a
combination of so many different sports.”

Water Whisper: Welch says that the secret to getting away
with rough underwater play is to identify the mentality of the
referee right off the bat. “Sometimes you can’t get
away with pulling on someone’s suit, and there are other
times when you can hit someone in broad daylight and not get called
for it,” Welch said. “It depends on the timing, the
place and who the ref is.”

 

2-Meter Offense

Name: Julie Nisbet

Year: Senior

Hometown: Santa Barbara, Calif.

Position Breakdown: Nisbet plays the 2-meter position at
the offensive end of the pool. “The offense kind of revolves
around getting the ball into the 2-meter for a good shot because it
is right in front of the cage,” Nisbet said.
“It’s just like (Shaquille O’Neal), he has the
best position in front of the basket. You have the best position in
front of the cage so you either want to get a shot off or try and
work to get a kickout. Worse comes to worst, you get a regular foul
and then the drivers can go and the regular offense can run after
that.” Nisbet is extremely effective at drawing kickouts,
which occur when an opposing player commits an infraction and is
ejected from the pool for 20 seconds as punishment. The result is a
hockey-esque 6-on-5 power-play advantage. In fact, she is so
effective at drawing the ejections that she is rapidly approaching
the team record for kickouts in a season, which currently stands at
54.

Water Whisper: All of that physical activity in the pool
can make for some healthy appetites among the girls on road trips.
“Megan always gets teased for eating a lot,” said
Nisbet. “ (She) always bolts out of the van if we stop for
food and tries to be the first in line, because we all have to
stand in line behind each other. There is a lot of conflict on
trips about eating.”

 

Driver: Perimeter Offense

Name: Erin Brown

Year: Junior

Hometown: San Diego, Calif.

Position Breakdown: When she is in the pool,
Brown’s primary tasks involve setting picks for teammates and
controlling the tempo of the game. “Drivers allow (for) the
breakup in monotony in this kind of game,” Brown said.
“We can either open up the hole set or open up one of our
other drivers, which is really important.” Brown feels that
the biggest challenge in water polo is not treading water for 28
minutes, but being prepared mentally game-in and game-out. “I
think that a lot of us have been playing water polo for so long
— a lot of us are from California — that I don’t
think (treading water) is part of it,” Brown said.

Water Whisper: Brown says that Coach Anderson’s
food restrictions often set an interesting double standard for the
team’s eating habits. “We’re not allowed to eat
certain things like Mexican food, and we can’t have
soda,” Brown said. “But we can go to Starbucks like
three to four times on a trip.”

 

Driver: Perimeter Defense

Name: Sheetal Narsai

Year: Junior

Hometown: Commerce, Calif.

Position Breakdown: As a driver, Narsai is similar to a
point guard in basketball. She brings the ball down the length of
the pool, and has to make sure that she takes care of it so as to
not commit a costly turnover. “In basketball, they have
people that play the outside positions — guards, and people
that post up and play more like Shaquille (O’Neal),”
Narsai said. “But in water polo, you have the ability to play
both inside and outside positions. We’re little, but
we’re quick — like in basketball, we can shoot the
ball.” As the Wolverines’ 4-meter driver, Narsai mans
the outside position. This means that she must shoot at the cage
from a greater distance than Shana Welch, the team’s 2-meter
driver. Narsai jokes that Welch, a Pennsylvania native, is always
getting called for turnovers when she is inside the 2-meter
position in the pool. Welch has an excuse, however: “(Welch)
is always inside of the 2-meter, and our coach always makes fun of
her because she says there’s no 2-meter (position) in
Pennsylvania,” Narsai said.

Water Whisper: Every time she shoots from the 4-meter
position, Narsai says the same prayer for good luck.

 

Coach Matt Anderson

Year: second year with the team

Born in: West Germany

Position Breakdown: Anderson is responsible for keeping
his players positioned properly throughout the game. “My role
is to make sure that the correct people are in the correct
position, meaning that Julie Nisbet is in front of the cage being
physical more often than not,” Anderson said. “(I also
have) to try and keep Erin Brown out from in front of 2-meters, and
make sure Megan Hausmann is in there guarding the correct
person.” The coach must also ensure that his players are
switching properly, and if they are unable to switch Anderson must
make sure that they are following proper fundamentals and not
taking costly penalties.

Water Whisper: Each day during practice, the members of
the team don blue and white-colored caps to distinguish between the
two scrimmaging teams. However, the players absolutely refuse to
wear their actual game numbers during practice, and as a result
switch the numbered caps before scrimmaging. “I just throw
(the players) the caps and then they throw them back to me like
I’m supposed to know,” Anderson said. “I forget
their numbers half the time anyway.” The coach also has his
own personal superstition — on game days, he will not wear
the same shirt or a shirt that is the same color two games in a
row.

 

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