SANTA BARBARA, Calif. — The No. 12 University of Michigan water polo team finished its opening weekend with a 3-2 record at the UCSB Invitational in Santa Barbara, Calif. after splitting two matches against top 10 teams on Sunday (Jan. 24).
Playing for the third straight day, Michigan showed no signs of fatigue on Sunday. The Wolverines saw the opportunity in front of them with two top-10 opponents and took advantage.
The strong team defense carried over from Saturday and Michigan held No. 8 San Jose State scoreless for the first 12 minutes of the game. Meanwhile, the offense ran on all cylinders with a season-high 18 goals. The 18 goals set a school record for most goals scored against a top 10 opponent. The previous high was 15 in a 16-15 loss to No. 4 Hawai’i in 2007.
“We were playing well on Saturday but we played with such an edge today,” said head coach Dr. Marcelo Leonardi. “The San Jose State game was one of the better games I have seen from a team I coached.”
U-M earned its first win over a top 10 team under head coach Dr. Marcelo Leonardi. The win snapped a streak of 21 straight losses vs. top 10 teams for Michigan. The last win came on Feb. 25, 2012 against No. 6 Hawai’i, 9-8.
In the second game of the day and fifth of the weekend, the Wolverines gave No. 2 UCLA a fight. The Bruins were able to stop Michigan on several power play opportunities and come away with an 11-7 win, but the Wolverines showed their improvement.
“It is really nice to see the results we had,” said senior Ali Thomason. “The first game was very high intensity and we were still figuring things out. As games progressed we got better. Each game everyone continued to push hard and the reads got better. We put up a really good fight against UCLA. That was really rewarding.”
The Wolverines played three top 10 teams in all over the course of three days, a good early season test for Team 16. In just his second year, Dr. Marcelo Leonardi has the team’s talent level in the upper echelon of women’s college water polo. It showed with the battles these last three days.
“We were able to assess where we were at,” said Leonardi. “As a group we showed that we can be in the top 10. The game against UCLA showed how much further we still have to go for the national championship. Getting better each and every game.
When a team plays five games during the first weekend of the season, you would expect to see fatigue on the final day, but Leonardi did not see signs of it from his team.
“I thought our fitness was exceptional,” said Leonardi. “During our final game, we were pushing and UCLA was pushing.”
“Last we were gassed after five games,” said Thomason. “This year we continued to push all the way through the last game. We owe it to our team working hard and making practice like a game.”
Game 1: Michigan 18, San Jose State 9
Michigan started the day with its best performance of the young season so far. Senior captains Ali Thomason and Kelly Martin led an offensive clinic, each matching their career highs for goals scored in a game.
Thomason put in six goals, giving her 11 in a span of two games. She also had six goals last year against Indiana. Martin, who entered the game with one goal, added four more to her season total. The last time she scored four times was her freshman year against Notre Dame in the CWPA Western Division Championships.
It was a clean performance for the Wolverines as they only had five exclusions. The defense was strong as well, allowing only four goals through the first three periods to help U-M build a big 15-4 lead.
Michigan made an early statement. The first two minutes were spent feeling each other out, but Thomason opened the door with a goal 2:30 in to the game. Martin scored less than 30 seconds later and then at the end of the period, Thomason converted a penalty shot and added another score to give her the first period hat trick.
The Wolverines added five more goals in both the second and third period, outscoring the Spartans 5-2 in each quarter. U-M built up a 7-0 lead before relinquishing the first SJSU goal of the game exactly halfway through the second period.
Freshman Kim Johnson continued her hot start with three more goals. She has scored three times in three of the first four games. Senior Julia Campbell and sophomore Katherine Moore combined for five saves. For Moore she recorded her first two career saves in her third appearance.
Game 2: Michigan 7, UCLA 11
Michigan closed out a three-day opening weekend against the No. 2 team in the country in UCLA. The Wolverines pushed hard throughout the game, but came up short in an 11-7 contest.
UCLA played strong defense at the start and finish, holding U-M to just one goal in each period. The Bruins had 12 exclusions call on them, but their 6-on-5 defense was able to limit Michigan’s offensive output.
The first goal of the game for Michigan didn’t come until 17 seconds left in the first quarter when freshman Julia Sellers put one in the cage. In the first four games over the weekend, U-M scored five goals twice and three goals in the other two games during the first eight minutes of play.
In the final three periods, the majority of Michigan’s scoring came from Thomason. The captain had four of the team’s last five goals to give her a team-high 19 for the weekend. She had 15 goals in the final three games combined.
UCLA had a balanced offensive attack with four different players scoring twice and seven players in all tallying a goal. Campbell played the entire game in goal for Michigan, posting six saves.
Michigan will host its Michigan Invitational next Saturday (Jan. 30) and Sunday (Jan. 31) at Canham Natatorium. The Wolverines will face San Diego State and Marist on Saturday and UCSB and Pacific on Sunday. Last year U-M only played one home game in Ann Arbor.
U-M Goals: Ali Thomason 6, Kelly Martin 4, Kim Johnson 3, Allison Skaggs 2, Caroline Anderson, Danielle Johnson, Christina O’Beck
San Jose State Goals: Rae Lekness 2, McKenna Yates, Kelli Leabo, Donia Momen, Cara Robinson, Giuliana Tragitt, Sierra Painter, Molly Kaster
Saves: U-M 5 (Julia Campbell 3, Katherine Moore 2), SJSU Not kept
Ejections: U-M 5, SJSU 10
U-M Goals: Ali Thomason 4, Kelly Martin, Julia Sellers, Kim Johnson
UCLA Goals: Devin Grab 2, India Forster 2, Mackenzie Barr 2, Grace Reego 2, Ashley Zwirner, Kelsey O’Brien, Alexa Tielmann
Saves: U-M 6 (Julia Campbell 6), UCLA Not kept
Ejections: U-M 9, UCLA 12
Swimming news courtesy of Michigan Water Polo.