BLOOMINGTON, Ind. — In a duel of the potential future of United States National Team water polo netminding and the present, goalie Heidi Ritner (Fr., Newport Harbor, Calif./Corona del Mar) of defending league champion/No. 7-ranked the University of Michigan proved to be the equal of Olympic Gold Medalist Ashleigh Johnson (Sr., Miami, Fla./Ransom Everglades) of No. 9 Princeton University as the goalkeepers both made 12 saves. However, the Wolverines’ offense proved to be one better as Michigan repeated in claiming a 5-4 victory to capture the 2017 Collegiate Water Polo Association (CWPA) Championship at Indiana University’s Counsilman-Billingsley Aquatic Center.
The Wolverines (28-8, 11-0 CWPA) complete a perfect CWPA season and will now await word as to where the team goes after claiming the league’s automatic berth into the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Championship. It is possible the Maize & Blue will earn a direct trip to the single-elimination NCAA Championship on Friday-Sunday, May 12-14, at the IU Natatorium in Indianapolis, Indiana, on the campus of Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI). However, depending on a number of factors, Michigan may need to compete in a play-in game on a date, at a location and at a time to be decided in the next day.
Michigan which was making its 11th CWPA title game shot to shatter a tie with the legendary Slippery Rock University teams of old for most title game appearances as “The Rock” made 10 appearances from 1988-to-1997, adds to a legacy of success.
Michigan, previously finished Fifth (2001), First (2002, 7-6 W OT SD vs. Hartwick College at Princeton University), third (2003), second (2004, 5-2 L vs. Hartwick at Bucknell University), first (2005, 8-7 W at Indiana), second (2006, 11-8 L vs. Hartwick at Brown University), fourth (2007), first (2008, 10-7 W vs. Hartwick at home), first (2009, 12-6 W vs. Hartwick at Harvard), first (2010, 7-5 W vs. Indiana at University of Maryland), second (2011, 5-3 L at Indiana), third (2012), second (2013, 7-5 L vs. Princeton at home), third (2014), fourth (2015) and first (2016, 9-2 W vs. Indiana at Harvard) since 2001.
Further, the 2016 edition of the Wolverines join Princeton (2012-13), a past version of the Maize & Blue (2008-10), Hartwick (2006-07), the University of Massachusetts (1998-99) and Slippery Rock (1988-1996) as the only women’s varsity teams to repeat as league champion.
The road back to the NCAA Championship was not an easy one due to the presence of Olympian Ashleigh Johnson and sister Chelsea Johnson (Jr., Miami, Fla./Ransom Everglades) on the roster of Princeton (24-4, 9-2 CWPA) .
In a game best described as a Hatfield & McCoy style clash with Princeton’s Johnson sisters looking to be one better than the Michigan duo of Kim Johnson (So., Walnut Creek, Calif./Las Lomas) and Danielle Johnson (Sr., Walnut Creek, Calif./Las Lomas), it would be the duo from Ann Arbor that found a way to lead their team to the narrowest possible victory.
The Tigers drew first blood in the game following a first quarter in which Ritner made four stops to Johnson’s one to help keep the Wolverines in the contest early and prevent Princeton from building a large lead.
Following 7:41 of scoreless water polo as the teams probed to find a weakness in their foes, Haley Wan (Jr., Irvine, Calif./Santa Margarita Catholic) grabbed a steal at mid-tank, swam down to just outside the cage, drew an ejection call against Heidi Moreland (Sr., La Jolla, Calif./La Jolla) with 24 seconds on the clock and found Eliza Britt (So., Newport Beach, Calif./Corona del Mar) who gave her back the ball for a man-up strike with 19 ticks remaining in the frame.
It took Michigan 1:31 into the second quarter to tally the equalizer as 2017 CWPA Most Valuable Player/CWPA Championship Most Valuable Player (MVP) Allison Skaggs (Sr., Lake Forest, Calif./El Toro) ripped in a feed from Caroline Anderson (Jr., Palo Alto, Calif./Henry M. Gunn) at the 6:29 mark on a Wolverines’ man-up chance after an exclusion against Hannah Lapkin (Sr., Tustin, Calif./Foothill) at 6:43.
The teams continued to feel each other out for the next four minutes until Anderson broke the equilibrium by hitting the twine with a shot at 2:37 two seconds after an ejection against Sydney Cheong (Jr., Los Angeles, Calif./Harvard-Westlake) expired at 2:39, but Cheong did not reenter the field prior to the score to make the goal man-up per the current listing in the NCAA Rules Book, to provide Michigan a 2-1 lead going into halftime.
Princeton refused to go done, easily, however as Britt stuffed a shot by Ritner 44 seconds into the third quarter to balance the scoreboard at two-all as the teams hunkered down for a war over the remaining 15:16 to decide who was the best program on the East Coast.
The tie lasted for under two minutes until Julia Sellers (So., Santa Ana, Calif./Foothill) took a pass from Anderson at 6:44 and put Michigan back in front at 3-2 with another exclusion conversion after a call against Wan with exactly seven minutes to go in the period.
Down by one against a fellow Top 10-ranked program, the Tigers turned to Chelsea Johnson who uncorked a blast off a pass from Wan at 5:30 with Princeton a man-up after a call against Anderson at 5:51. Facing the possibility of the momentum shifting in favor of the Black & Orange, the Maize & Blue leaned on their Johnsons as Kim found sister Danielle for a Matrix-esque backhand 28 seconds later for what would prove to be the initial coffin nail in the game.
Princeton would need to rely on assistant coach Becca Dorst and fellow assistant Derek Ellingson down the stretch as head coach Luis Nicolao was sent off with 39 seconds remaining in the third quarter via red card for arguing calls. It marked Nicolao’s second card of the contest as he took a yellow with 3:12 remaining in the first half.
Anderson, who earned Player of the Game honors for recording pairs of goals and assists, notched the eventual game-winning strike with 4:43 to go in the fourth quarter as she put away an assist from Sellers on a man-up chance after a call against Lindsey Kelleher (So., South Pasadena, Calif./Polytechnic) at 4:45.
Trailing 5-3, the Princeton defense stiffened under Dorst and Ellingson as Ashleigh Johnson and the Tigers kept Michigan off the board over the remaining 4:45. However, Ritner and the Wolverines were nearly as good over the final four plus minutes as she allowed only a goal by Chelsea Johnson off an assist from Britt with eight seconds remaining to permit Michigan to escape, 8-7.
For Michigan, Anderson factored in four of her team’s five goals. Cozens, Danielle Johnson and Sellers also found the back of the cage.
On the other end of the tank, Chelsea Johnson put away a pair of markers with Wan and Britt chipping in the remainder of the Tigers’ offense.
In a ceremony following the presentation of the championship and runner-up plaques to Michigan and Princeton, respectively, Skaggs added to her litany of honors in 2017 as the CWPA MVP tacked on Tournament MVP accolades. Michigan head coach Dr. Marcelo Leonardi posted Doc Hunkler Coach of the Tournament honors with Hartwick College freshman Lena Kotanchyan (Fr., Moscow, Russia/Elk Island School #368) collecting Rookie of the Tournament recognition.
The complete 2017 CWPA Championship All-Tournament Team is listed below:
|No. 9 Princeton University (24-4, 9-2 CWPA)
|No. 7 University of Michigan (28-8, 11-0 CWPA)||0||2||2||1||—||5|
Michigan Goals: Caroline Anderson (2); Kaitlyn Cozens; Danielle Johnson; Julia Sellers
Princeton Goals: Chelsea Johnson (2); Haley Wan; Eliza Britt
Saves: Michigan – Heidi Ritner (12) ; Princeton – Ashleigh Johnson (12)
Exclusions: Michigan – 12 ; Princeton – 8
Advantage Opportunities: Michigan – 4-for-8 ; Princeton – 2-for-12
Sprints: Michigan – 4-for-4 ; Princeton – 0-for-4
Cards: YC – Princeton (Head coach Luis Nicolao, 3:12 left in 2nd Quarter); RC – Princeton (Head coach Luis Nicolao, 39 seconds left in 3rd Quarter); YC – Princeton (Assistant/acting head coach Becca Dorst, 26 seconds left in 4th Quarter)
Misconducts: Princeton – Maddy Damato (2 seconds left in 4th Quarter)
Officials: Josh Kratz, Scott Voltz
University of Michigan’s Caroline Anderson (#6) shoots against Princeton University’s Haley Wan (#3) as Julia Sellers (#12) defends
Princeton University’s Ashleigh Johnson attempts to stop a shot by the University of Michigan’s Allison Skaggs (#10) as Haley Wan (#3) defends and Chelsea Johnson (#2) looks on
Princeton University’s Chelsea Johnson gears up to unload a pass over the University of Michigan’s Kim Johnson (#20)
Hail to the Victors! University of Michigan celebrates winning back-to-back Collegiate Water Polo Association Championships
2017 Collegiate Water Polo Association Champion – The University of Michigan
2017 Collegiate Water Polo Association Champions – The University of Michigan
2017 Collegiate Water Polo Association Championship Runner-Up – Princeton University
2017 Collegiate Water Polo Association Championship Most Valuable Player – Allison Skaggs (University of Michigan)
2017 Collegiate Water Polo Association Championship Doc Hunkler Coach of the Tournament – Dr. Marcelo Leonardi
2017 CWPA Championship All-Tournament Team
|Ashleigh Johnson (Goalie)||Princeton University|
|Haley Wan||Princeton University|
|Allison Skaggs||University of Michigan|
|Maddy Steere||University of Michigan|
|Lena Kotanchyan||Hartwick College|
|Zsofia Polak||Hartwick College|
|Marisa Kolokotronis||Brown University|
|Kristen Hong||Harvard University|
|Heidi Ritner (Goalie)||University of Michigan|
|Danielle Johnson||University of Michigan|
|Kim Johnson||University of Michigan|
|Chelsea Johnson||Princeton University|
|Lindsey Kelleher||Princeton University|
|Michelle Martinelli||Harvard University|
|Kelly Matthews||Indiana University|
|Joelle Nacouzi||Indiana University|
|MVP:||Allison Skaggs (University of Michigan)|
|Rookie of the Tournament:||Lena Kotanchyan (Hartwick College)|
|Doc Hunkler Coach of the Tournament:||Dr. Marcelo Leonardi (University of Michigan)|
|*Due to a three-way tie for the final spot on the Second Team, seven field players are recognized on both the First and Second Teams|