Coming off a three-game losing streak, No. 15 IU will open up conference play with a battle in Ann Arbor, Michigan, against No. 7 Michigan.
This will be the first Collegiate Water Polo Association conference game for the two teams, and both have built up solid résumés thus far. Michigan is 10-5 against the same opponents between them and the Hoosiers while IU is 5-5.
Michigan, 17-8, is led by junior attacker Caroline Anderson, who has been a headache for opposing teams so far this season. She has scored 34 goals and assisted on 54 of her teammates’ goals as well. She has been involved in 88 points this season and leads the team in steals with 37.
The Hoosiers, 13-6, have their own star players who will look to improve on an already stellar season. Junior defender Kelly Matthews will look to match Anderson in the pool on Saturday when the two meet for the first time this season. Matthews leads the team in goals with 35.
“It’s a rivalry, so it’s always an exciting game,” Matthews said. “Both teams are going to come out strong, and it’s going to be a tough battle.”
IU Coach Ryan Castle said he is looking forward to playing Michigan and knows this is a heated rivalry for both teams.
“There’s going to be a lot of tension,” he said. “They’re our rival, and athletes from both sides usually step up a bit more in these types of games when you need them the most.”
The thing that makes IU so hard to handle is its distribution of the ball to so many different players. Four Hoosiers have more than 20 goals on the season, and two of them come from their freshman attacking duo of Joelle Nacouzi and Mollie Williams. Both have combined for 47 goals on the season, and the team is more successful when both get off to hot starts on the score sheet.
The Hoosiers have played 19 games thus far and have traveled to many places along the way. Castle said he’s learned a lot of things about the team as the season has progressed, and he said he has seen one thing that separates them from the rest of the country — their toughness.
“We’re not the team that is going to fall easily, and we will never give up,” Castle said. “The nine-game trip that we just had just adds to the testament of our toughness. We have a lot of options and we just need to execute in order to be successful.”
Matthews said at this point, when conference play will start to get going, the team wants to focus on fixing its mistakes and eliminating its weaknesses.
One Wolverine the Hoosiers will try to contain is sophomore Kim Johnson, who leads the team in goals with 42. Even though she may lead the team in goals, Michigan’s attack has shown to be spread out over its roster. The team currently has six different players who have scored more than 30 goals this season, which shows how dangerous it is on offense.
To match their offensive play, the Wolverine defense has six different players who have accumulated more than 20 steals at this point in the season. IU attackers will have their hands full, and they are going to need more production out of Nacouzi and Williams if they want to be successful. Both players were quiet on the score sheet in Hawaii last weekend.
One matchup to watch Saturday will be which team’s goalkeeper will outplay the other. Both keepers have been crucial to their team’s successes this season, and the two have great save percentages so far. IU’s junior goalkeeper, Jessica Gaudreault, has a 60.9 save percentage while her counterpart, Heidi Ritner, has saved 54.9 percent of her shots.
Castle said this game will test his team, and he hopes it will adjust to whatever is thrown at the team at the start of the game. He said IU is well aware of how good Michigan is, and he said he thinks his team has been tested enough so far this season that they will be ready for any opponent in their conference.
“We need to step up when we play a team at such a high caliber like Michigan,” Castle said. “They run a good system which gives them an edge over competition, and it’s relevant in film. We’ll be ready for them.”
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