Ex-Michigan, Huron High School star Betsey Armstrong returns to watch NCAA women's water polo tournament
The best water polo player at the NCAA championships at the University of Michigan this weekend is a spectator.
Betsey Armstrong, Olympian and former Michigan and Huron High School water polo star, is in her sixth year with the USA national women’s water polo team and was named Swimming World Magazine’s women’s player of the year in January.
Courtesy University of Michigan
The eight-team NCAA championship started Friday at Michigan. The Wolverines are not part of the field. Their season ended May 1 with a 5-3 loss to Indiana in the Collegiate Water Polo Association Eastern Championship game.
“I’m just watching the games (in the NCAA tournament),” Armstrong said in a press conference Friday. “I spoke last night at the banquet. I’m just here to enjoy watching water polo.”
Her advice to the women playing in college was simple.
“Embrace the college experience,” she said she told them.
Armstrong, a goalkeeper, said she enjoys her role as an ambassador of the sport and hopes to see water polo gain popularity outside of California.
“That’s something I was kind of saying last night (at the banquet),” she said. “I love living in California, and I love playing water polo there. It’s great. But I love seeing water polo spread across the country. It’s so huge of a sport, and it needs exposure. “It’s an amazing sport, and on all levels, it even struggles on the international levels at times. The more you bring things like a national championship tournament outside California, the better it will be for the sport.”
Matt Anderson, the Michigan women’s water polo coach, said Armstrong has always tried to promote a holistic appreciation of the game.
“She is everything you would want a Michigan student athlete to be,” Anderson said. “She’s a great representation. The girls (in college) know who she is, so they enjoy her. Whether it’s a USC or a Michigan girl, she just cares about them, because she’s in it to promote the sport, and they’re young ladies that want to get better.”
Armstrong’s accomplishments with team USA include gold medals at the FINA world championships in 2007 and 2009, a gold medal at the FINA world cup in 2010 and a silver medal at the 2008 summer Olympics in Beijing.
Armstrong said she misses being a student-athlete, but she enjoys being able to focus more on water polo as national player.
“I can’t say I like one more than the other,” she said. “It’s incredibly different. I miss being a student-athlete greatly. I miss being in school. The longer you’re away from college, the more you want to go back, I guess. Real life can get a little daunting. But I think there’s a special attitude about (playing water polo) when it is your job.”
In an interview with AnnArbor.com in August 2009, Armstrong said her main goal was to help the national team reach the 2012 Olympics in London and take home the gold medal. This year, she’ll be able to start that Olympic bid with different qualifying tournaments.
“Our biggest thing this year is the Pan American games in October,” she said. “That will be our first opportunity to qualify. So that’s obviously our No. 1 goal. We have, obviously, world championships before that in Shanghai, which will be the other one. The world championships the year before the Olympics are always really huge.”
Anderson said: “She’s becoming more confident. When you are considered one of the best in the world, that’s a lot of pressure, and people don’t think about it. Michael Jordan had more pressure on him than anybody else. That’s a lot of pressure that every game you have to be the best in the world. It was tough for [Armstrong] initially coming out of college. She took some time off, and now she’s got a grip on it.”
Armstrong also said she has some personal goals while preparing for next year’s Olympic Games.
“For me personally, my biggest goal now that I’ve competed for a couple years is to be consistent,” she said. “I’ve had some great games, and I’ve had some not-so-great games.”
And though she’s spending most of her time now training with the national team, she isn’t sure what will happen after London.
“My goal is to make it through London and see where I am after that,” she said. “You have to sort of take it every quad at a time. I’m getting older, so it’s going to be difficult to see much further than that.”
One option for Armstrong, who studied English literature at Michigan, is not at all related to water polo.
“I would love to make a career as a writer, or something like that.”