The fifth-ranked Ann Arbor Huron water polo team punched its ticket to the upcoming state tournament on Friday night with a 12-3 win over Holt/E.L. The River Rats then went out and knocked off sixth-ranked Skyline on Saturday afternoon to take third in the region.
Their placement gives them a rematch of last year’s opening-round game at states with top-ranked Hudsonville, whose loss to Rockford in the West Region championship netted them the second seed.
Coming off a physically and emotionally draining 7-6 (SDOT) loss vs #4 Okemos in the semifinals, the Rats looked to rebound. Without senior captain Hannah Frazier – taking a finger to the eye in the Okemos game, she spent the afternoon in the hospital – and given a short 2 hour break, it was a game ripe for an upset. The Eagles had held the Rats to two goals in their previous encounter, and had looked phenomenal in a 4-3 loss to eventual Regional champ Saline in their semifinal game.
Senior Kirby Gardner (goal, two assists), thrust into a starting role with the departure of her bestie Hannah, was quick to settle any fears of a letdown game. Striking a couple possessions into the first quarter, Gardner netted a silky smooth upper corner shot beyond the hands of Skyline goalie Allie Milot. The Eagles had dropped off of her to cover senior captain Emily Marsh in set, and Gardner made them pay by displaying her trademark off-speed dart. Junior Kristen Clyde, the next Rat that Skyline dropped off of and dared to shoot, tallied her own outside shot later on in the 1st and the game was on.
Keeping up the pressure in the second after taking a 2-1 lead, junior Sophie Flott banged in a man-up goal from the 6 spot off a beauty of a pass by Gardner and Clyde hit again with a dangerously awesome lob from the 4-5 side. Skyline hit one of their own, a solid outside shot by Miranda Stuart, and the Rats took what looked like a comfortable 4-1 lead into the half.
Eagle coach – and East Region Coach of the Year – Godek began instructing her athletes to drive Marsh into the deep wing when on offense, removing her from being able to quickly swim into set in transition. This relieved much of the pressure the Rats had been applying on offense, and led to a couple quick counter attacks, resulting in kickouts and a 5m penalty shot.
Flott, engaged in a battle all game long with a Skyline player, drew multiple kickouts through drives and out of set before earning her final ejection – stopping a counter attack in the 3rd.
Freshman Anna Leone was then thrust into play for the rest of the match. Surrendering two goals in the third period, the Rats clung to a 4-3 lead and looked like Skyline’s relatively fresh legs would swim them out of the game.
Marsh had another idea. Despite strong play out of set by the Eagles, and a relative paucity of offense movement by the Rats, Marsh hit twice in the fourth – once a VERY unexpected backhand that drew a roar of approval from the spectator area, and another at 5m out of a timeout play – to take the Rats home.
The Eagles did manage to net one more in the fourth – running a 6 on 5 opportunity off a time out, they flummoxed the Rat defense by showing an offensive set they hadn’t run yet to get a goal from the 6 position, but their comeback stalled out through tight defense by the exhausted Rats.
Marsh earned First Team All-Region, Kingma Second Team and Frazier Honorable Mention for the season.