BLOOMINGTON — Minutes before the start of the Eastern semifinal game, Michigan coach Matt Anderson and Maryland coach Carl Salyer sat beside each other in metal folding chairs on the pool deck. Both men were laughing and smiling as they talked about how excited they were to coach against each other. They were long-time friends looking forward to a good game.
The warmup music stopped. Anderson got up from his chair, shook Salyer’s hand and said with utmost sincerity, “Good luck.”
That was the last polite gesture the Counsilman-Billingsley Aquatic Center would see for the next hour and a half.
After handling George Washington effortlessly during the quarterfinal game on Friday, the sixth-ranked Wolverines (32-4) beat the 19th-ranked Terrapins 11-6 on Saturday, putting themselves in the final round of the Collegiate Water Polo Association Eastern Championship for the fourth consecutive year. It was the second time the two teams faced each other this season. Michigan won their last contest, which was just three weeks ago, 9-5.
The Wolverines’ second victory against Maryland was as convincing as their first one, but it wasn’t very pretty.
Penalties and kick-outs plagued the Michigan defense all four quarters. After junior Meagan Cobb scored twice in the opening moments, exclusions against the Wolverines allowed the Terps to pull even at the end of the first frame.
Michigan racked up nine penalties by halftime — Maryland had just four.
“Kick-outs are something that we can’t control,” Cobb said. “Some games the refs will be on our side, and some games not necessarily. We just need to go out and control what we can control.”
The Wolverines adjusted by hunkering down on penalty-kill defense. Though four of the Terps’ scores came from man-up situations, they had 17 opportunities total. Michigan’s speed and maneuverability wore the Maryland offense down to exhaustion.
“I think in that game that our defense played so hard and was constantly putting pressure on (Maryland), that it felt like that was almost rest time for Maryland,” sophomore goalkeeper Alex Adamson said. “Instead of attacking, they were exhausted because our girls had been working them so hard up and down the pool.”
Adamson, the defensive star of the game, collected six saves, five of which came against Maryland power plays. More impressively, she found herself in one-on-one situations twice due to Terp breakaways, but she denied them of a score both times.
With her six stops, Adamson became the fourth goalie in Wolverine history to reach 300 saves.
Adamson’s prowess as a passer also allowed the Wolverines’ counterattack to catch Maryland off guard several times. She tallied three assists with pinpoint lobs to sophomore Lauren Colton and seniors Keller Felt and Alison Mantel during the second half.
“Alex Adamson was on fire,” Anderson said. “Her best attribute is her passing. Every pass she made, even the ones that were not successful today, were spot on.
“Alex is a big time player. I never have to worry about her stepping up.”
Michigan will now advance to the finals to take on tournament host and archrival Indiana, who squeaked by No. 12 Hartwick 10-9 in the opposite semifinal round immediately following the Wolverines’ game against the Terps. The Hoosiers will be looking to exact revenge from the 9-8 loss to Michigan earlier in the season and to break their 0-9 record against the Wolverines’ senior class.
Because of the teams’ history, the stakes will be higher than ever before, and Anderson knows it. He barely spent 10 minutes enjoying Michigan’s victory before his eyes diverted toward the pool to scout the ensuing competition.
“It’s a great testament that these seniors have made it to the finals four years in a row,” Anderson said, anxious to return to the pool deck. “But the job isn’t done yet.”