Last week, IU Coach Barry King called it the game his water polo team has been looking forward to since last May 2012.
The day has finally arrived.
The No. 12 IU water polo team (16-11) will face off against its archrival No. 19 Michigan (13-10) at noon Saturday at home in the Counsilman-Billingsley Aquatic Center, located in the Student Recreational Sports Center. It will be the final regular season game for IU before the CWPA Western Division and Eastern Conference championships begin in April.
“I’m so excited,” senior attacker Jakie Köhli said. “Usually we play them three or four times a year, so by the third or fourth time we’re like, ‘OK, one more time,’ but this year, it’s our first game, and it’s a home tournament, so it’s really exciting. I’m really pumped.”
If IU and Michigan don’t meet during the postseason, this will be the only time since IU became a varsity program in 1998 that the duo will face off only once in a season. As the only two Big Ten schools with varsity women’s water polo teams, IU and Michigan have met as frequently as six times in a year (1999) and as few as twice (2008, 2009, 2011).
The Wolverines own a major advantage against the Hoosiers in the win-loss column. Michigan is 41-14-2 all-time against IU, but only 15 matches have been decided by more than two goals. The Hoosiers have gotten the upper hand recently, winning three of the past four matchups.
King said he thinks fortunes have fallen with IU recently, as opposed to with Michigan earlier in the rivalry.
“I think some of the breaks have gone our way,” he said. “We’ve always just kind of been there and had a bounce go against and that kind of thing. More recently, I think, we’ve had more bounces go our way than against.”
Balance is one aspect IU will need to account for against Michigan. The Wolverines have claimed nine separate CWPA weekly awards this year by five different players. In comparison, IU has won three awards by three separate players.
King isn’t intimidated by those numbers.
“We have pretty good players, too, and we’ve demonstrated a certain amount of balance also,” he said. “This game always comes down to who’s most prepared defensively. We’re gonna have our best defenders on their best offensive players, and we’ll go from there.”
Freshman center Candyce Schroeder hasn’t played Michigan yet in her career, but she said she’s expecting a tough, physical match.
“They’re pretty athletic, and they play pretty well as a team,” she said. “They’re really physical, so we have to match how physical they are. I think we’ll have a really good game.”
The match will be of particular significance for Köhli. It will be her final home game of her IU career. She is the lone senior on the team. Although she will never play a match in Bloomington ever again, Köhli said the emotions haven’t hit her yet.
“It’s not my last game with the team, so it’s not gonna be too different,” she said. “I probably won’t start feeling really sad until my last tournament, so I’m just gonna go in like any other game — play my heart out, play to win.”
Throughout her career, Köhli has scored 233 goals, which is second-best all-time in IU’s record books. Only Kristin Stanford has scored more times with 246 goals. Köhli also has 267 steals and 126 assists in her career, good for fourth and second all-time, respectively.
One of the aspects Köhli will remember most about the IU-Michigan rivalry is the particular crowd noise made in both Bloomington and Ann Arbor. When asked to describe the rivalry in one word, she instead came up with three.
“Intense and very loud,” she said. “Every time we play them, it’s usually at our pool or their pool, so our fans will just go crazy. At their pool, they have a cowbell that’s really annoying, and they have their a cappella group that comes out and sings. So, their’s is a really annoying loud, and ours is get-pumped-up loud, because everyone’s just cheering us on.”
Schroeder said she admires Köhli’s leadership and hopes the team can get a win for her senior night.
“Jakie’s a really good team-leader,” she said. “Everyone looks up to her, she’s always encouraging us, she has a great work ethic. I think it’s more a win for her if we can all come together as a team for her last game.”
King also praised Köhli’s contributions to IU.
“Jakie’s meant a lot to the program,” he said. “I think at the end of the day, she’s going to prove to be the best all-around player that we’ve ever had here. We want that reflected positively in her last contest here.”
Köhli said a victory against the Wolverines would be a terrific home send off.
“It would be amazing, and I think we can do it,” she said. “I’m really looking forward to this weekend.”