The No. 7 Michigan water polo team has not lost a conference championship since 2015. Over the past seven years, the Wolverines have gone unmatched against the Collegiate Water Polo Association. With six championships, the only time they didn’t win a title was due to COVID-19.
On Sunday, the story was the same.
In a two-day event, top-seeded Michigan (26-8 overall, 12-0 CWPA) sailed past two teams it had faced and defeated twice before. It beat No. 22 Brown (25-15, 7-5), 14-7, and Harvard (23-7, 9-3), 10-4. In both games, individual players used their own strengths to win.
“Something that makes Team 22 so great is that we are all unique in our own ways, in our own skill sets and personalities,” graduate student attacker Maddie O’Reilly said. “When you bring all of those amazing characteristics together, it makes something special.”
In their match against the Bears, the Wolverines placed relentless pressure on their opponent with an early 4-2 lead at the end of the first. After going back-and-forth for the next two periods, it was ultimately a six-goal fourth period that gave Michigan the edge it needed to defeat Brown and advance to the championship match.
Utilizing the same strategy that spelled victory against Harvard in the past, the Wolverines forced an overwhelming nine turnovers while exemplifying near-perfect control when the ball was in their possession. By maintaining its consistent goal-scoring, Michigan was able to secure a victory against the Crimson and lock in a spot in the NCAA Championships.
While many of the older players on the team have seen this success before, the Wolverines believe their key to success this season has been – and will continue to be – the chemistry between them.
They are nothing if not hungry for more hardware.But the real challenge will be testing that chemistry against top-tier opponents in the NCAA Tournament.
With such a seasoned roster, Michigan is confident in its ability to keep its head down and focus on the next match ahead. The Wolverines are maintaining the game-by-game strategy that has served them well throughout the regular season, looking only toward their next match.
“It’s a one-day celebration at most,” O’Reilly said, “As soon as Monday at 8 p.m. hits, we’re onto the next opponent. We’re ready to go.”
With the 2022 CWPA Championship in its back pocket, Michigan now looks to take its postseason all the way.
“Our goals are part of our vision,” Michigan coach Dr. Marcelo Leonardi said. “ Ultimately, we want to win an NCAA Championship. We’ll have to focus our energy and effort into (the quarterfinal) game, and then prepare for the Final Four. I think it’s one game at a time.”
Even with the presiding win streak in conference championships, the Wolverines have been unable to make it past the first round since 2016 and have never gotten higher than fourth-place in the NCAA Championships.
This year, they hope to change that — but not before they make it past their next match.