Even as it has climbed to the No. 5 ranking nationally, the Michigan women’s water polo team has not been able to escape its last three invitationals without a loss.
And when the Wolverines (19-6) visited Tempe, Ariz., for the Arizona State Invitational, they once again could not emerge completely unscathed, finishing the tournament in second place.
Despite solid defense by Michigan, which included 10 steals and 20 forced turnovers, its offense was stymied by the host No. 9 Arizona State in an 8-5 defeat.
Senior attack Kelly Martin was the only player with multiple goals, and the Wolverines’ five goals came off 25 shot attempts, whereas the Sun Devils managed to tally their eight goals on just 16 attempts. Arizona State’s success primarily stemmed from goalkeeper Mia Rycraw, who saved seven shots and is averaging nearly 11 saved shots per game.
“They have one of the best goalies in the country,” said Michigan coach Marcelo Leonardi. “They did a really good job defensively. We played tight and not as fluid as we normally play.
“I think we are still learning and getting better. It’s a work in progress.”
But the weekend was still a success for Michigan, as it bounced back from the loss to win its next three games. The Wolverines dominated Pomona-Pitzer, 16-3, No. 13 Pacific, 13-6, and No. 23 Marist, 11-5.
“I think we showed a lot of resilience to come back after that loss and get three wins,” Leonardi said.
Against Pomona-Pitzer, freshman attacker Julia Sellers and junior utility Danielle Johnson led the way for the Wolverines with three goals each. They kept the Sagehens scoreless for the first two periods.
The first game on Sunday against No. 13 Pacific showcased back-and-forth play in the first period, but the Wolverines pulled away with four straight goals in the second and beginning of the third to take a 7-3 lead, setting them up for an eventual victory.
The second Sunday game and final match of the invitational against No. 23 Marist featured a 7-0 start by the Wolverines. Michigan took its foot off the gas pedal afterward, but the Red Foxes still could not catch up. The Wolverines’ potent offense included eight different goal scorers.
Leonardi was pleased with how spread out the scoring was, but he believes that one player in particular shined.
“(Freshman center) Amy Ridge definitely broke through,” Leonardi said. “The last three games she got in a really good groove.”
She scored in every game, collecting six goals, two steals and two assists.
Though the Wolverines suffered yet another invitational loss, their performance overall made them feel ready to compete against other top-ranked opponents when the CWPA and NCAA championships roll around.