The Michigan Daily - Wednesday, April 16, 2003 - 13
Ann Arbor native Betsey Armstrong has been the backbone of Michigan's water polo team
By Melanie Kebler Daily Sports Writer
n the water, sophomore goalkeeper
Betsey Armstrong is a force to be
reckoned with. Her intimidating
wingspan dares anyone to attempt a
shot on goal. Her finely tuned reflexes
and physical condition make scoring an
even less frequent occurrence. She
directs her teammates with a strong
voice and seems to always know exactly
where the ball is going.
But catch up with her out of the
water, and except for her 6-foot-1
height, you probably wouldn't be able
to tell that she is an honorable mention
All-American, that she holds the
Michigan record for saves in a single
season with 317 or that she was a start-
ing member of the Junior National
Team when she was just a junior in
high school. Armstrong's demeanor
fails to belie her status as one of the
best goalkeepers in Michigan history
and the possibility that she could
become one of the best netminders in
"The key to Betsey is what a neat
young lady she is and what a wonderful
teammate she is," Michigan coach Matt
Anderson said. Anderson first met
Armstrong while she was on the Junior
National Team, and he was helping
coach the men's Junior National Team.
"I think the team appreciates her in
the sense that Betsey, athletically and
physically, is at a level that very few
athletes have the honor of being at. But
yet if you met her, talked with her and
played with her, you would have no idea
that she is going to go down as one of
the best goalies in the history of
women's water polo," Anderson said.
"She's very unassuming like that, and
that's what's so neat about her."
Instead you might be more likely to
discover that she, like most college stu-
dents, is unsure of what kind of career
she wants, even though she decided on
classical archeology as a major this
year. You would probably find out that
she enjoys listening to Radiohead, and
that she is an Ann Arbor native who
wanted to go to the University ever
since she was a child.
What Armstrong won't tell you is
how hard life is as a student athlete. She
won't brag or rip on teammates and
coaches. She just works hard, both in
the classroom and in the water.
Her coaches, though, will tell you all
the reasons she deserves to be known as
one of the best goalies in Michigan water
polo history. She has made it a habit to
break just about every Michigan goal-
keeping record there is. Last year, she set
the record for single-season blocks
(317), lowest goals against average
(6.57) and steals in a game by a goal-
keeper (six). She also registered the most
minutes played all-time at Michigan
while playing in 35 out of 40 games.
She was recognized at the end of last
season as the Eastern Championships
title game MVP, named to the first team
All-Southern Division and given All-
America honorable mention.
And that was just her freshman year.
A family tradition
"Growing up, I'd always wanted to go
to Michigan, separate from water polo,"
An understandable attitude for an
Ann Arbor native whose sister attended
the University and whose father teaches
here. The fact that Michigan's program
was promoted to the varsity level in
2001 did nothing but further Arm-
strong's decision to go to Michigan
instead of the multitude of other schools
that were wooing her.
Armstrong's love of the water made
her a natural for the sport. As a kid she
and her sister swam at the neighbor-
hood pool every day, and by the time
she was in middle school, she was
already playing club water polo. After a
few years, she found herself in the goal-
"With my height and speed and my
swimming and stuff, it was kind of the
best place to put me," Armstrong said.
At the end of her high school career,
Armstrong had already established her-
self on the national scene, and she knew
she wanted to play college water polo.
At Huron High School, she was Michi-
gan Rookie of the Year in 1998 and
Player of the Year and MVP in 2000.
Starting her junior year, Armstrong was
also a part of the National Development
Team. Anyone probably could have pre-
dicted how much she would thrive here
at the University, but it seems no one
can escape being impressed by her
devotion to her sport and her training.
Sophomore Jo Antonsen, who also
happens to be one of Armstrong's
roommates, remarked that Armstrong
was "one of the nicest people you'll
"She's really amazing in and out of
the water. It's unbelievable the saves she
makes," said Antonsen. "She's a role
model academically and athletically"
In the pool, Armstrong goes all out.
"Betsey, physically, is an extremely
hard worker,"Anderson said. "At times,
I have to pull the reins back on her
because she works so hard, and that is
part of the reason why she's at the level
she is (at). She doesn't slack off."
The mental warrior
These hardworking qualities are cru-
cial in a position as important as the
"Whenever I scout an opponent, the
first thing I look at is their goalkeeping
because that's the last line of defense,"
Anderson said. "You're going to get
your shots, so the question is, will the
goalie be able to stop them?"
For Armstrong, the answer is usually
yes. Anderson added that she "makes
up for a lot of goals that would go in on
a normal keeper."
But what about the goals that do go
in? The mental aspect of a position like
goalkeeper is the most important part,
both coach and player said.
"I think (the position) is very, very
mental," Armstrong said. "You need to
be confident, and you need to always be
focused on the game and know what's
going on everywhere at all times."
"As a goalie, whether it's hockey,
soccer, or water polo, the mental part of
the game is the biggest part," he said.
"You have to know that you're going to
get scored upon, but you also have to
not let it get you down to where balls go
in that shouldn't go in."
The last part is rarely a problem for
Armstrong - even in practice.
"The difference with Betsey is, she
gets pissed when balls get scored in
practice," Anderson said. "That's a big
difference from most goalies, who kind
of horse around in practice. Betsey
doesn't like to be scored upon in prac-
tice, and she doesn't like to be scored
upon in a game. She has never and will
Sophomore Betsey Armstrong has been steady as Michigan's goaltender for the past two years.
never blame her teammates."
He said that although Armstrong
always blames herself for goals, she
shouldn't dwell on them.
"She always thinks its her fault when
the ball goes in, and it's our job as
coaches to keep that fire burning so that
she doesn't like to be scored upon,"
Anderson said. "But we also don't want
to put the pressure on her so that she
thinks it's her fault, because it isn't
when the ball goes in."
Anderson said he usually faults the
defense for goals scored against Michi-
gan, because it lets the shot be taken in
the first place and "all a goalie can do is
save you." But as far as having a strong
probability that the shot will be saved,
Michigan thinks it has great chances
with Armstrong in the cage.
"I do know Michigan is at the level
we are because our last line of defense
is as good as you can get at this level,"
said the Michigan coach.
Anderson knows Armstrong already
has earned herself a place in the Michi-
gan water polo history books.
"I don't think (she) realizes how
good she is or how good she can be,
and that's a positive, because you want a
player never to think that they don't
need to get better," he said.
This summer, when she's hanging out
at the pool or perhaps studying abroad
on an archeological dig, Armstrong
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probably won't be thinking about her
record-breaking stats or her potential to
become an even better water polo goal-
keeper. But don't be fooled. As she has
shown this year and last, Armstrong and
her wingspan will be all business once
she hits the water.
For the Ann Arbor
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