One match at a time.
That’s the late-season philosophy for the Michigan women’s water polo team as it strives to continue an 18-game winning streak, the longest in program history.
It’s also the philosophy coach Matt Anderson believes will keep his team in contention against West Coast powerhouses when the NCAA tournament rolls around in early May.
The Wolverines continued their dominance to maintain the team’s “best in the east” title in Bloomington, Ind., this weekend, sweeping the Fluid Five Invitational with victories over Wagner (12-6) and No. 19 Santa Clara (6-5).
In the nightcap of the invitational, the Wolverines again found themselves head-to-head with the same West Coast competition that they struggled against at the beginning of the season when they lost six straight matches.
“I just told the girls that they needed to adjust, and cater to (Santa Clara’s) West Coast style of play,” coach Matt Anderson said. “They really responded well.”
Junior Julie Hyrne scored twice within two meters to open the game for Michigan and give the Wolverines some breathing room.
Hyrne then registered the eventual game-winning score, her 47th goal of the season. She’s scored goals in eight of the last 10 games. Anderson and junior Carrie Frost both described Hyrne as “a lethal weapon in the water.”
Santa Clara attempted to mount a comeback, scoring first in the second period, but the Wolverines’ defensive play proved to be too much for the Broncos. Following a recent trend, Michigan’s defense again proved to be the difference in the matchup
Anderson used Saturday’s first match against Wagner to give his younger players more game experience.
“Our young players play just as important of a role on this team as our experienced veterans,” Anderson said. “To win, everyone needs to step up.”
The freshmen played like seasoned veterans against Wagner, scoring eight of Michigan’s 12 goal. Lauren Orth led the freshman corps with five goals on the night.
“Lauren really stepped it up for us,” Anderson said. “It’s clear she has a bright future ahead of her.”
Orth’s great performance Saturday came as no surprise after she earned CWPA Player of the Week honors earlier this month following a 17-point effort at the CWPA League Games.
Anderson also gave sophomore Terri Bukofzer her second shot as goalkeeper this season. Bukofzer responded with a solid 10-save effort in the victory against Wagner.
“We’ve really grown as a team,” Frost said. “Especially on defense, you can see how we’ve learned to work together better as the season’s gone along.”
And it shows. These Wolverines are not the same players that suffered crushing losses to powerhouses UCLA and Southern Cal in February.
With two recent victories against ranked West Coast opponents, the 12th-ranked Wolverines (24-9) feel good about potential matchups against the same competitors who dominated them earlier this season.
“We just want to prove to everyone that we can play with the best in the west,” Frost said.