There’s only one team at Michigan that has only been a varsity sport for a decade, but has piled up four conference titles, eight consecutive division championships, and was been voted Team of the Decade in December by the visitors to the College Water Polo Association’s website. It’s a team with a 248-105-1 record throughout nine seasons. It’s a team with a four-time division Coach of the Year, and one that’s coming off its second consecutive visit to the NCAA Championship.
It’s the Michigan women’s water polo team, and it’s ready to dive into another season.
The Wolverines will commence its 2010 season this weekend at the annual Michigan Kickoff, and head coach Matt Anderson says their goal is to discover who they are as a team.
“We don’t know exactly who we are yet,” Anderson said. “Like any team that loses a good amount of seniors, we have the potential to be good, but we’re not going to be where we want to be right away until everybody figures out their role and what we need to do to get where we want to go.”
The 10th-ranked Wolverines will be going for their third straight conference championship this year, some would say a reasonable goal considering the veterans that make up the roster.
The leadership of senior Leah Robertson, who holds the program record for steals with 299, will be crucial for success, as will that of fellow captains senior Casie Kelly and junior Cara Reitz.
The Wolverines possess extraordinary defensive talents, but also high-charged and nuanced offensive weapons. Redshirt senior goalkeeper Brittany May ranks third on Michigan’s career saves list, with 409, while last year, junior Alison Mantel, became only the third player in program history to reach 50 goals in one season.
“We have the confidence to want to score the ball and play aggressively,” Anderson said. “Every year we seem to score more goals than the year before.”
The Wolverines graduated seven seniors after last season’s 35-9 campaign, one that saw Michigan finish in fifth place at the NCAA Championship.
But don’t be fooled by their youth — Anderson expects to see an immense amount of talent in all of the freshmen. He said that Kiki Golden, a three-time team MVP at Monte Vista High School, has the ability to be “outstanding” from day one.
It’s not the most popular sport in Ann Arbor, but the water polo team, with its consistent success, is certainly one of the most captivating.
Some call it basketball in water, but Anderson described it also as a fast-paced sport that’s more similar to hockey.
“There’s always an opportunity every time down to get a shot opportunity,” Anderson said. “And it’s physical. You’re not just swimming away from the person, you’re physically trying to move them out of the way and trying to out-strength them to get the ball into the net.”
Anderson knows how sports fans love to see action and offense, and the Wolverines were certainly high scoring last year. Michigan scored 10-plus markers in 25 of 44 games last season.
“It incorporates everything people tend to like; the physicality, the athleticism and the offense is all there,” Anderson said. “And you can get some pretty good defensive plays also. I think everyone will walk away from watching the sport saying ‘That’s a very tough sport to play.’ And that’s why I think it appeals to people once they go watch it.”
So for those who didn’t bother to make New Years resolutions this year, here’s a belated one: Go see a game of women’s water polo this year. The first chance is this Saturday at 1:15 PM, as the Wolverines play host to UC San Diego at the Canham Natatorium.