On a weekend when a lot of people asked the No. 7 Michigan water polo team if it knew Jim Harbaugh, the Wolverines made a name for themselves with their stellar play in the Bay Area.
Michigan (10-3) won three of its four matches against ranked opponents and claimed third at the Stanford Invite on Sunday. It also rebounded from a loss to No. 1 Stanford on Saturday by winning out for the rest of the weekend.
Following a 12-7 defeat to the Cardinal on Saturday morning, Michigan slipped by No. 15 Loyola Marymount later that day, 9-8. Backed by strong defense and three goals each from senior Ali Thomason and freshman Kim Johnson, the Wolverines downed the Lions after overcoming what Michigan coach Marcelo Leonardi called “the proverbial Stanford hangover.”
“I told them, ‘We can’t allow a team like (Stanford) to physically push us around,’” Leonardi said. “And I thought they responded really well.”
Michigan, heeding the advice of its coach, answered with a stronger second half against the Cardinal and, following the aforementioned slow start against Loyola Marymount, a win over the Lions.
“(The Stanford game) was kind of a wake-up call,” Thomason said. “We realized we had to push harder, and I think that carried over to our later games.”
The Wolverines kept their momentum going into the next day, beating No. 8 San Jose State, 8-7, in a game that saw Johnson score the winning goal in the final seconds of the fourth quarter.
“(Johnson)’s been able to learn the system,” Thomason said. “She has a great skillset — she can post up, she can defend, she can shoot — which is why she’s been able to contribute so much.”
Thomason herself scored seven times for Michigan in Palo Alto, making her the ninth player in program history to record 150 career goals. She added one goal against No. 10 UC Irvine in the final match Sunday afternoon.
Not just an excellent player in the water, Thomason offers great leadership out of it for a young, still-growing team.
“(Thomason)’s development at this university is second to none,” Leonardi said. “Everybody looks to her at the most difficult times to lead us through challenges.”
Led by Thomason and Johnson, the Wolverines hope to continue to play up to the standards of top competition. Leonardi may not be quite as famous as Jim Harbaugh yet, but the coaches have one thing in common: They don’t let their teams get pushed around.