STANFORD, Calif. — The No. 7 University of Michigan water polo team (10-3) earned two more wins over top 10 opponents to finish in third place at the Stanford Invite.
Sunday provided an excellent Super Bowl 50 pregame show in the Bay Area with two outstanding games for the Michigan squad.
A goal in the final seconds helped the Wolverines defeat No. 8 San Jose State (6-5) for the second time this season and team defense held No. 10 UC Irvine (3-3) scoreless until the 1:45 mark of the fourth period.
“This was our third straight weekend of competing and to get an opportunity to play at Stanford in this elite tournament was great for us,” said head coach Dr. Marcelo Leonardi. “To get two top 10 quality wins, I am really proud of this team right now.”
With the two victories over top 10 teams, U-M has now earned three top 10 wins already this year. It is the most since 2010 when the Wolverines also claimed three top 10 victories.
Game 1: No. 7 Michigan 8, No. 8 San Jose State 7
With 24 seconds to go in the game and the scored tied 7-7, senior Ali Thomason earned a kickout as San Jose State’s Cara Robinson was sent out for an exclusion foul. Michigan had a 6-on-5 advantage and a chance to win late in the game.
With the clock ticking away the ball came to freshman Kim Johnson. She knew time was winding down and that she needed to take a shot.
“I was in a position that was overlooked,” said Johnson. “Nobody was getting a good shot, so I knew if I got it I had to take it. I knew exactly where I was going to shoot it and when I got it, I went for it.”
Johnson was up top on the right side looking at the goal. She took the pass from sophomore Caroline Anderson, who was down low on the same side, and fired it through the raised arms of the defense in to the high right corner.
“That shot tends to be open from that position,” said Johnson. “I shot immediately to try and catch them off guard. It was nerve racking, but a really good feeling. I tried not to celebrate too much because there was still time left on the clock and I knew we still had to stop them.”
Johnson had been in a similar situation in the past with a couple of game-winning goals, but it was a big moment for a freshman in college.
“Marcelo keeps telling me I have the green light and to have confidence in my shot,” said Johnson. “The entire weekend built up to that and prepared me for that moment.”
The game was much different from the first time these two schools met this season when U-M won 18-9 at the UCSB Invitational. Michigan looked like it was going to run away with the matchup again, building a 4-1 lead by the 4:51 mark of the second period. San Jose State fought back to make it 5-3, but junior Heidi Moreland scored with nine seconds to go in the first half to send the Wolverines to a 6-3 halftime lead.
Down 7-4 in the third, the Spartans began to chip away as their defense started to get stops. SJSU eventually would tie the score at 7-7 with 3:36 left in the fourth quarter.
The two teams traded possessions and took turns calling timeouts in the final two minutes, but ultimately it was the 6-on-5 opportunity in the final 30 seconds that decided the game.
Senior captain Kelly Martin scored three of the team’s eight goals for her third hat trick of the season. Along with the game-winning goal, K. Johnson drew four kickouts in the contest. Anderson had three steals to go with a goal and an assist. Senior Julia Campbell made eight saves.
U-M Goals: Kelly Martin 3, Heidi Moreland, Caroline Anderson, Allison Skaggs, Kim Johnson, Ali Thomason
San Jose State Goals: Donia Momen 3, Kelli Leabo 2, Rae Lekness, Carla Toha Vilanova
Saves: U-M 8 (Julia Campbell 8), San Jose State 4 (Alicia Magliocco 4)
Ejections: U-M 7, SJSU 8
Game 2: Michigan 6, UC Irvine 2
With two wins in the first three games of the weekend, Michigan was slotted into the third place game against No. 10 UC Irvine to close the tournament.
The two top 10 teams locked up in what would become a defensive showdown. Back in November in an exhibition contest at the Collegiate Cup, the game was a 5-4 game won by the Anteaters so a low-scoring, tight game was expected. That is exactly what the fans got.
After one quarter it was 1-0 Michigan, at the half it was 2-0 Michigan and after three quarters it was 4-0 Michigan. For the first 30:15 of the game, you could look up at the scoreboard and see a “0” next to UC Irvine.
“Irvine has been a top five team the last few years, so our ability to hold them scoreless for so long is incredible,” said Leonardi. “Our team dug in deep and knew for us to be successful, our defense had to play at an elite level.”
The zero on the scoreboard was the most impressive defensive stat as Michigan only had five steals and Campbell finished with six saves to go with two steals.
“We did a great job of taking away their 2-meter game,” said Leonardi. “KJ (Kim Johnson) and Heidi (Moreland) did a great job fronting and our perimeter pressure was intelligent.”
The Anteaters did not crack the scoreboard until there was 1:45 left in the game and they capitalized on a power pay opportunity. They then added a second goal on a penalty shot with 46 seconds to play.
By that point the game was well in hand after the Wolverines had scored the game’s first six goals. Sisters Danielle and Kim Johnson each had one goal in the first half. Thomason won the sprint to start the second half and then scored a goal 33 seconds later to make it 3-0. Anderson and junior Allison Skaggs each scored in the final period.
U-M Goals: Danielle Johnson 2, Caroline Anderson, Allison Skaggs, Kim Johnson, Ali Thomason
UC Irvine Goals: Corinna Toledo, Keana Eldridge
Saves: U-M 6 (Julia Campbell 6), UC Irvine 2 (Jenna Phreaner)
Ejections: U-M 8, UCI 5
After playing 13 games over the last three weeks, Michigan will now have a three-week break to get back to training and get some much needed rest. The Wolverines’ next competition will be Feb. 27-28 when they travel to Irvine, Calif. for the Anteater Invite.
Swimming news courtesy of Michigan Water Polo.