When Michigan coach Matt Anderson gathered the women’s water polo team before Saturday’s game, he meant only to reiterate that losing wasn’t an option.
“Either we’re going to win big, or we’re going to win by one,” he told his players.
Talk about unintentional self-fulfilling prophecies.
On Saturday, the seventh-ranked Wolverines (3-0 CWPA West, 20-4 overall) squared off against archrival No. 12 Indiana (0-1 CWPA West, 15-10 overall) in Bloomington before a national television audience. The bleachers in the Councilman-Billingsley Center were filled with hostile fans carrying giant cardboard head shots of their favorite players, hoping to witness the first Indiana win of the series since April 2007.
But their hopes were dashed as history repeated itself. Michigan held onto the ball and its lead in the fourth quarter to claim a 9-8 victory.
The Wolverines won as Anderson had predicted — by a single point — and there were plenty of big winners all around.
The Michigan seniors stepped up against their familiar foes and extended their win streak to 9-0. Seniors Lauren Colton, Alison Mantel and Lauren Orth spearheaded the offense and accounted for six scores, while defender Ryley Plunkett forced the Hoosiers to the perimeter during the second half by shutting down their two-meter set.
Senior Keller Felt never lost a swim-off, and the perfect placement of her fourth-quarter pass to junior Meagan Cobb resulted in a tip shot that caught the Indiana goalie completely by surprise.
No other Michigan class has owned the rivalry in such commanding fashion.
“To go four years without losing to them — knock on wood, we might play them one more time — it’s a pretty amazing feat,” Mantel said.
The play of the game came from sophomore goalie Alex Adamson when she blocked a penalty shot late in the fourth quarter. She reacted correctly on the five-meter skip shot to the left and denied Indiana the chance to tie the game.
“When it comes down to a one-goal game, it’s generally the goalie that makes the difference,” Anderson said. “In this game, Alex Adamson made the difference.”
Adamson tallied eight total saves and became the first Wolverine goalie to win five in a row against the Hoosiers.
Even some of the freshmen made an impact. Kelsey Nolan made several appearances during man-up situations and scored on a well-timed shot in the fourth quarter. Her rotation into the lineup moved Mantel to the outside, which spread the Indiana defense.
The formation change ignited Michigan’s prolific scoring during the second half.
“We’ve been practicing some plays this past week, and we said, ‘When we get another 6-on-5, we’ll call a time out and run one of our plays,’ ” Cobb said. “Our plays worked flawlessly.
“I’m extremely proud of our freshmen.”
Perhaps the biggest winner of all is Anderson. With just three more league tournaments remaining on the schedule — none involving Indiana — the toughest test of the regular season is over. He can now spend more time preparing the Wolverines for the NCAA Tournament and caring for his daughter Eden Marie, who was born last Monday.
In fact, Anderson already had his schedule planned out for his arrival back in Ann Arbor.
“I’m going to change her diaper, and then I’ll go to sleep.”