Going into halftime Saturday, the No. 8 Michigan water polo team found itself in a precarious position. The Wolverines (1-0 CWPA, 20-6 overall) were tied, 4-4, facing No. 15 Indiana on the road — and if that wasn’t enough, it was the Hoosiers’ Senior Day as well.
Despite the close game, Michigan head coach Marcelo Leonardi still felt calm, and the Wolverines’ emotion matched his, as they came out victorious, 11-8.
“The rigor of our schedule in the non-conference play has been able to prep us for moments like this,” Leonardi said.
After the halftime break, the Wolverines regained their sharpness almost immediately after getting back into the pool. Forty-five seconds into the third quarter, freshman defenseman Kim Johnson scored her first goal of the game, giving Michigan a lead it wouldn’t relinquish.
Just 40 seconds after her goal, Johnson was able to find senior attacker Kelly Martin, who put the ball in the back of the net to stretch the lead to two goals.
Johnson wasn’t done, though. A minute and a half after Martin’s goal, Johnson scored once again, capping off a magnificent three-minute start to the second half that gave Michigan a 7-4 lead. The Wolverines managed to score two more goals in the third quarter, including one with two seconds remaining, to head into the fourth quarter with a 9-5 lead.
“I think the difference between the first half and the second half was that our pressure defense did a better job of capitalizing on turnovers, which created opportunities on the counter-attack,” Leonardi said.
The fourth quarter was significantly less productive for Michigan. Indiana responded with two goals to narrow the lead to 9-6, but the Hoosiers weren’t able to pick up any momentum past that.
The Wolverines started the game off strong with sophomore attacker Caroline Anderson notching the first goal of the game.
But the rest of the half was characterized by back-and-forth scoring, with Indiana responding in fewer than 35 seconds to each of Michigan’s first three goals.
“I would’ve liked to start the game off a little bit sharper to set the tone,” Leonardi said. “But you have to give Indiana credit. They’re playing with a lot of emotion.”
Though Michigan is ranked in the top 10, it is the third highest-ranked team from outside of California. But Leonardi says he doesn’t pay attention to the standings, only the RPI. The Wolverines could get an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament at the end of the season if their RPI is high enough.
But, for safe measure, Leonardi would rather secure the automatic bid that comes with winning the conference tournament.
“We want to win every single conference game,” Leonardi said, “to be able to get the No. 1 seed at the CWPA championship, and then ultimately position ourselves to get a conference championship and go the NCAAs.”