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Posted on Sun, Apr 28, 2013 : 8:45 p.m.

Michigan water polo comes up short in CWPA final, 7-5 to Princeton

By Kyle Austin

An unlikely comeback Saturday night put the Michigan women’s water polo team in position to take a conference tournament title in its home pool, and earn a trip back to the NCAA tournament.

A day later, another comeback wasn’t in the cards.

Michigan saw its season end with a 7-5 loss to Princeton in Sunday’s CWPA tournament final at Canham Natatorium.

“I really expected that game to go to overtime,” Michigan coach Matt Anderson said. “But unfortunately we had a couple of looks that we weren’t able to finish.”

After trailing from early in the second quarter on, the Wolverines cut the deficit to one goal with 43 seconds left. But with a 35-second shot clock and Princeton in a stall, Michigan had to press and try to force a turnover on the ensuing possession. That allowed Princeton to get open for a point-blank shot and a goal.

“We would have seven seconds to try to advance the ball, and it’s not like basketball where you’re going to get a clean look at the cage,” Anderson said “It was just a breakdown on our end.”

Sunday marked Michigan’s eighth CWPA tournament title game in Anderson’s 11 years at the helm. Four times, Michigan has won that championship game and advanced to the NCAA tournament, including three straight from 2008-10.

The loss means Michigan will be out of the NCAA tournament for the third straight year, but Anderson said he doesn’t look at it as a drought.

“Two of the last three years we’ve lost in a championship game and last year we lost with zero seconds on the clock in a semifinal, to me that’s not a drought,” Anderson said. “Take away that last goal, and we’re two goals away from having two more NCAA appearances in the last three years.”

The loss came a day after Michigan came from behind in the fourth quarter to top No. 1 seed Indiana, 6-5, in a semifinal game. The Wolverines scored two goals 17 seconds apart in the fourth quarter of that game to score the win.

Michigan carried that momentum into Sunday’s final, going up by two goals early in the first.

But after that, Anderson said his team went away from what had been successful and started taking low-percentage shots from the outside. Princeton went on a 6-1 run and held Michigan without a goal for more than two full quarters.

“You try and shoot the ball over a person that is covering the space, like in basketball, not going to work,” Anderson said. “You move around and move laterally, it’s going to be successful, and we weren’t able to do that enough.”

Yet for a moment Sunday, it looked like Michigan might be able to pull off another late comeback. Going into the fourth quarter down three, Michigan held Princeton scoreless, and made it a two-goal game on a penalty shot with six minutes left.

But Princeton goaltender Ashleigh Johnson, later named the tournament’s top rookie, made several of her 15 saves down the stretch to stymie Michigan.

“Our shot selection definitely could have been better,” senior Kiki Golden said. “We needed to put some more on the water. We kept shooting high.”

Freshman Presley Pender led Michigan with three goals Sunday.

Michigan’s season finale put the cap on what was an up-and-down seaso. The Wolverines started the year 4-10 against tough, mostly West Coast competition, before reeling off 10 straight wins in the middle of its season. Only six Wolverines played in every game as the team battled injuries.

But Anderson said his five-member senior class took a team-first attitude and led the Wolverines to the doorstep of another NCAA berth.

“They always wanted to win for Michigan,” Anderson said. “And it took some teammates a while and some teammates still haven’t understood that that is ultimately what it comes down to, but these five seniors have understood it better than any of my 11 senior classes that it’s about playing for Michigan and nothing else.”

Kyle Austin covers sports for He can be reached at or 734-623-2535. Follow him on Twitter @KAustin_AA.