One of Michigan water polo coach Matt Anderson’s favorite stories concerns his recruiting visit to sophomore Shana Welch’s high school.
Anderson had heard about a girl from a small school in Pennsylvania who was strong enough and could swim well enough to compete on a collegiate level. Overlooked by other schools, Anderson realized he found a hidden gem.
“When I got there, she was in the middle of an intense game,” Anderson said. “She was so exhausted that she swam over to the side of the pool and threw up. She just got right back into it, and, ten seconds later, she had retrieved the ball and scored an impressive goal.”
When asked about this anecdote, Welch explains her personal approach to adversity.
“I guess it was just ‘puke and rally,’ ” Welch said.
This statement describes how Welch deals with many obstacles. Indeed, she’s been rallying all her life.
When Welch was a young child she endured a serious surgery.
“The doctor’s removed part of one of my lungs because they had found a tumor on it,” Welch said. “Sometimes my body needs a rest, but it doesn’t affect me too much.”
Though the sophomore may dismiss the effects, Anderson does not underestimate the seriousness of the procedure.
“She basically operates with about half the lung capacity of the average athlete,” Anderson said.
As she grew up, other obstacles got in the way. Welch attended Wyoming Valley West High School in Larksville, Penn. Her school didn’t have a regulation water polo pool, and the closest facility in its vicinity was 38 miles away. But Welch didn’t allow the meager facilities to affect her goals. Instead, she continued to play at a high level and hoped that someone would discover her. Anderson was the only coach in the nation that took notice.
“When Shana was in high school, the coach at Arizona State told her she wasn’t good enough to earn a scholarship,” Anderson said. “This year, she got a chance to play his team and show him everything that he missed out on. She scored five goals in a 6-3 victory. She is a coach’s dream. She only has one goal in mind — to put the ball in the back of the net.”
Last year — on her way to being honored as the 2004 College Water Polo Association’s Rookie of the Year — Welch set the Michigan water polo team record for goals in a season with 55. This past weekend, she surpassed her previous mark and now has 57 goals on the year, with at least three tournaments remaining on the team’s schedule.
Along with her skills, Anderson also credits her vigor and bravery for her success in the pool.
“Just like a wolverine is the strongest pound-for-pound creature in the animal kingdom, Shana is the strongest pound- for-pound swimmer in the pool,” Anderson said. “It just makes sense that she plays for Michigan.”
Now, as the team’s most prolific goal scorer continues to excel the challenges persist.
Anderson notes that more teams are focusing on trying to shut her down. But Welch has a simple plan to rally from yet another challenge.
“I’ll just have to be more aggressive and work harder.”
Given her past, no one should doubt that she will.