TEMPE, Ariz. — The No. 5 Michigan water polo team downed No. 13 Pacific and No. 23 Marist on Sunday (March 20) at the Arizona State Invite to close out its nonconference portion of the schedule with a 19-6 record.
The two ranked opponents faced on Sunday added to the string of difficult matchups for the Wolverines in the first portion of the season. In all U-M has faced 23 ranked teams with 11 of those contests coming against top 10 foes.
“We have had a very successful nonconference part of our season,” said head coach Dr. Marcelo Leonardi. “We have seen so many different scenarios and have been involved in lots of situations that have prepared us for conference play. We won’t be surprised with anything after the hard schedule we have played.”
The Wolverines suffered a loss to No. 9 Arizona State to start the weekend but bounced back with three straight wins to end the ASU Invite with a 3-1 record.
“That was our first really tough loss,” said junior Danielle Johnson. “We used it as fire. We don’t like to lose. Every loss is unfortunate, but today we played our game, had a really good press, had good shot blocks and weren’t letting the ball move around easily. It was a total team effort. Those are my favorite wins.”
U-M had hosted both Pacific and Marist in late January for the Michigan Invitational, defeating Pacific, 11-7, and Marist, 16-6. This time around the games would also go in favor of the Wolverines.
Defense helped the Wolverines to victory on Sunday. U-M held No. 12 Pacific to six goals, tying the Tigers’ second lowest scoring total of the year. Later in the day the Wolverines held No. 23 Marist scoreless in the first half and to only two goals through the first 29 minutes of play.
Game 1: Michigan 13, Pacific 6
Trailing 2-1 in the first quarter, Michigan scored two goals seven seconds apart to take its first lead of the game. Freshman Amy Ridge scored with 47 seconds left and senior Ali Thomason followed with a goal at the0:40 mark.
The late period execution proved to be the difference maker in a close first half. Pacific tied the score at 3-3 in the second quarter, but U-M regained the lead on Ridge’s second goal at the 1:09 mark. Thomason again followed up Ridge, this time 23 seconds later to help the Wolverines take a 5-3 halftime lead.
Michigan scored on its first possession of the third quarter as Thomason earned a win on the sprint and freshman Kim Johnson scored. Thomason then scored to give her at least a hat trick for the 12th time this year. The two early goals opened up an onslaught that would be six third-quarter goals for the Wolverines and help U-M outscore Pacific 8-3 in the second half.
“It was a close game in the first half, but we got some key goals from Ali and Amy,” said Leonardi. “It was great to get everybody in the game as we continue to develop our bench heading into conference play.”
Junior Danielle Johnson scored twice in the third period and Ridge would add another goal in the fourth for her first career hat trick at Michigan.
Thomason had five points with three goals and two assists to go with four steals. Sophomore Caroline Anderson was once again the facilitator of the U-M offense, dishing out a career-high six assists. It matches the second most in school history and is only the fourth time a player has had six or more.
“Caroline was clicking today,” said Leonardi. “She found the open person and made the extra pass to help our offense.”
Game 2: Michigan 11, Marist 5
The way Michigan finished in the second half against Pacific carried over to the final game of the weekend.
The Wolverines scored the game’s first seven goals against No. 23 Marist with five of those coming in the first quarter. U-M held the Red Foxes scoreless in the first half, leading 7-0 at the break. Marist would not score its first goal until the 4:20 mark in the third quarter, a scoreless span of 19:40 to start the game.
Thomason and sophomore Laura Jimenez helped Michigan build the lead with two goals apiece in the first half. Junior Heidi Moreland had one goal and one assist during the 7-0 run.
“We shut them out in the first half,” said Leonardi. “Our defense and counter attack broke them down.”
Senior goalkeeper Julia Campbell stoned the Marist offense with eight saves, not letting any shots get by her. She gave way to junior Emily Browning at the start of the second half.
After Marist scored its first goal of the contest U-M went on a 3-0 run with goals by senior Kelly Martin, Ridge and Danielle Johnson, who notched her second of the game. The 10-1 lead put the game out of reach. The Red Foxes added two goals in the final 42 seconds but Michigan would come away with an 11-5 victory.
Anderson hit the 50-assist mark for the season in the win. It is only the third time a Michigan player has had 50 or more assists in a single season. Anderson has two of those three years as she set the school record with 56 assists last year as a freshman. Alison Mantel had 50 assists in 2010. The impressive part is Anderson did it before conference play even started.
Now the focus of the season will shift to conference play. Michigan will have two weeks to get ready for the conference opener at Indiana on Saturday, April 2. The game will be televised on the Big Ten Network at 11 a.m.
Swimming news courtesy of Michigan Water Polo.